Mask hanging off a rear-view mirror in a car.
Photo: Frosina Polazarevska/Unsplash

Masks off

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Good morning! After a federal judge overturned the CDC’s mandate requiring masks to be worn on transit, Uber and Lyft promptly made masking optional for riders and drivers. How do people feel about this decision? Well, it’s complicated. I'm Lizzy Lawrence, and this week, I'm in my “Prince of Egypt” era. Stream Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey's "When You Believe."

For Uber and Lyft, the masks come off

Well into year three (ugh) of COVID-19, mask mandates have been dropped by states, counties, companies and now, in what seems to be a turning moment in the pandemic, by airlines and Uber. Transit was one of the final holdouts due to the federal transportation mask mandate until a federal judge in Florida struck down the mandate on Monday. Now people are scrambling to figure out where they need to mask and where they don’t. For the most part, it’s a personal choice (for better or worse), according to President Biden and the swath of transit groups who have decided to make masking optional, despite an uptick in cases with the BA.2 subvariant.

Uber and Lyft have scrapped their mask mandates after two years of having them in place. Both companies announced Tuesday that, following the lead of the TSA and several public transit agencies, masks would no longer be required for drivers or riders. Both linked their announcements to the CDC order no longer being in effect, but urged riders and drivers to comply with local masking laws.

  • “Many people still feel safer wearing a mask because of personal or family health situations, so please be respectful of their preferences,” Uber stated in its announcement. “And if you ever feel uncomfortable, you can always cancel the trip.”
  • Riders and drivers also no longer have to keep the front seat empty, or the windows open.
  • Other big tech companies have also ditched mask requirements in recent months. Apple made masks optional (though not for employees) in most of its U.S. retail stores, and Amazon dropped its mask mandate for warehouse workers.

Unsurprisingly, some people are unhappy about Uber and Lyft’s decisions. Those who are immunocompromised and others who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 are left wondering what happens now that masking is up to individuals. The move leaves more room for confusion and chaos; we’ve all seen videos of disturbing altercations over masks.

  • “Uber and Lyft are playing politics with our lives,” said Rondu Gantt, a rideshare driver and organizer with Gig Workers Rising. “I don’t like the idea of people getting in my car without a mask on. It’s been raining here in the Bay Area, so the windows are up and people are coughing.”
  • Jason Munderloh, another driver and organizer, added: “They made this decision without us. We should have been consulted, and they should allow each driver to enforce a mask mandate in our own cars if we wish.”
  • Erica Buddington, a historian and educator, has relied on rideshares throughout the pandemic as a safer alternative to public transit. She has a neurological disorder, and often visits her immunocompromised parents and grandparents. “While some people will, I’m sure, say, ‘I understand your preference and I understand that you’re vulnerable,’” Buddington said, “Some folks might say, ‘I don’t have to do that now.’ Or drive off. That is my fear.”

Others are relieved. Chris Gerace, a driver in Buffalo, N.Y., said making masks optional rather than a requirement will be less of a hassle. Some of his passengers already were opting not to mask, which was stressful given the requirement. Now, he’ll feel comfortable knowing that he and his passenger are allowed to unmask. “If somebody’s looking to wear their mask, I’ll just say, ‘Hey, do you want me to wear one too?’” Gerace said. “But if they get in the car, and they're not [wearing one], then, you know, that's fine.”

One solution could be an app feature that gives drivers and riders the opportunity to share their mask preferences. Unlike massive, cash-starved transit agencies, Uber and Lyft have the tech and resources to ensure workers and passengers are at ease. Masking differences could lead to awkward social negotiations at best. At worst, dramatic conflict. Both Uber and Lyft could be proactive to make the experience as seamless as possible.

  • Typically, Gerace just observes whether passengers grab a mask before they hop in his car. He said he’d appreciate an in-app masking feature that eliminates masking guesswork.
  • “If I can ask a driver not to speak to me, why can’t I ask them to put a mask on in the app?” Buddington pointed out.
  • The apps could even factor mask preferences into their rider-driver matching algorithm, letting people indicate their mask/no-mask comforta on a sliding scale.
  • Uber told Protocol that it’s always looking for ways to make users more comfortable, but didn’t say whether the company is working on any specific feature. Lyft said drivers and riders can “decline to accept or cancel any ride that makes them feel unsafe” but didn’t respond to a question about mask-preference features.

Listen, things are gonna get weird as we adjust to this new mask-optional life. Many of us had finally settled into wearing masks all the time everywhere before guidance abruptly changed. And who even knows what flights will be like? The more clarity and communication opportunities ridesharing companies can provide, the better.

— Lizzy Lawrence (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM RINGCENTRAL

The speed at which security has been built up over the last 12 months has been a derivative benefit of what we’ve seen during the pandemic. Privacy, compliance and security are three legs of the same stool. What we’re seeing increasingly is that intersection continuing to happen. RingCentral has invested in all those elements.

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People are talking

Mastercard's Raj Dhamodharan said the crypto industry needs to work with policymakers to write clear regulations:

  • "I think the intentions are in the right place and we will iterate through it."

National Urban League’s Marc Morial doesn’t think Elon Musk buying Twitter would be good for civil rights:

  • “The potential to negatively impact millions directly and our nation’s culture and democracy indirectly are exponential.”

Making moves

Tesla earnings are happening today. It's unclear if Elon Musk will take part in the earnings call.

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The Pokémon Company bought Millennium Print Group, which makes and prints trading cards, for an undisclosed amount.

Gupshup is buying AskSid, which offers conversational AI for ecommerce and retail companies, in an all-cash deal.

Brex purchased Pry Financials in a push to invest in software firms. The deal cost $90 million.

Chris Novak left Xbox. Novak had been with Xbox for a couple decades and most recently led research and design.

In other news

CNN and Discovery execs don’t see eye to eye on CNN+. Parent company Warner Bros. Discovery already stopped marketing for the service and laid off CNN’s CFO.

Netflix lost subscribers for the first time in a decade. The company partially blamed its decision to leave Russia and said it’ll crack down on password sharing to gain more members.

Elon Musk is trying really hard to get the funding to buy Twitter, sources told The New York Times. Morgan Stanley has been hitting up banks and other potential investors to ask for help on his behalf, with the hope of forming a fully funded offer this week.

Better.com laid off even more employees, Techcrunch reported. It’s the third round of layoffs in a half year, and sources said it may have affected over 1,000 workers.

Just Eat Takeaway is already looking to sell Grubhub. Some big shareholders have wanted a sale for some time, and Just Eat's shares rose about 3% on the news.

More women now hold leadership roles at Pinterest, according to the company’s new Inclusion and Diversity Report. The number of employees who self-identify as Black, Latinx or Hispanic, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander also rose slightly.

Nintendo is facing a labor complaint. An unnamed person is claiming the company’s associated staffing agency broke labor rules with actions including “coercive statements," "retaliation" and "surveillance."

Vietnam wants to give social media platforms 24 hours to take down illegal content, sources told Reuters. Platforms must block illegal livestreams within three hours under the proposed rules or risk being banned.

DoorDash published its first ESG report since its IPO, which shows that more than half of Dashers are women and almost 40% are people of color. The company will release a full DEI report soon.

Is the word “landlord” inclusive? Google’s new writing feature doesn’t think so, but the tool also seems to be flawed.

Worse, I'm a gamer

A decade ago, fun at work meant ping pong and foosball. Now, it’s video games.

The platform Luna Park, for example, offers hour-long game shows for work teams of up to 200 people. Protocol’s Lizzy Lawrence sat in on a session, where a large kitten “floated by and squished its face on the rocketship screen.” The goal is to get co-workers bonding in a way that doesn’t feel as forced as virtual happy hours or 1:1 chats. Who wouldn’t want to play with giant virtual kittens?

A MESSAGE FROM RINGCENTRAL

At RingCentral, we’re focused on making hybrid work simpler for organizations so they can best set up, run and manage their business. We’re asking ourselves what's the benefit that we can derive, or that we can enable, that is better than the best-in-class in the industry?

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