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Uber’s new rules of the road

Uber mask

Good morning! This Thursday, Uber sets out its new rules of the road, virtual trivia is here to stay, and Amazon is slowly getting back to normal.

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People Are Talking

On Protocol: Telehealth matters, and Zocdoc CEO Oliver Kharraz said it's more than just doctors over Zoom:

  • "Telehealth and video is going to be a permanent part of the health care experience going forward, and doctors are [being] asked to reinvent themselves ... We need to give them a tool that they can rely on that's HIPAA compliant, that's very easy to use — both for the doctor and for the patient — and that doesn't burden the doctor with an additional cost."

Congress should pass a price-gouging law, Amazon policy chief Brian Huseman said:

  • "The disparate standards among states present a significant challenge for retailers … While each state is unique and has the ability to enact individual legislative price gouging triggers and remedies, a federal price gouging law would ensure that there are no gaps in protection for consumers. This would also help retailers like Amazon more effectively prevent bad actors and ensure fair prices."

Louis Borders, the creator of Borders and Webvan, has yet another plan to disrupt retail:

  • "There are plenty of online groceries being delivered, but the service levels are low and the fees are high. The industry is kind of up for grabs right now."

The Big Story

Ready to work? Put on your mask and look into the camera

For the last two months, Dara Khosrowshahi has been telling people not to use his own product, he told reporters on a call yesterday — saying it almost like he could barely believe it himself.

Now Uber is starting to get drivers and riders back on the roads — and trying to keep everyone safe in the process.

  • "It's about hygiene, health and face coverings," Khosrowshahi said. "It's about protecting not only yourself, but everyone around you."

Starting Monday, Uber drivers will have to confirm in the app that they're wearing a mask, and snap a picture to prove it — otherwise they won't be able to start accepting rides. If Uber's AI doesn't detect a mask in the photo, it won't let the driver go.

  • They'll also have to state that they don't have COVID-19 or related symptoms, that they've sanitized their vehicle that day, and more.
  • Riders, meanwhile, are being told not to use the front seat of a vehicle, and can't request a ride until they've agreed to wash their hands and open a window if possible.
  • When riders and drivers rate each other, there's a way to indicate that they weren't wearing a mask. If riders are doing that frequently, Uber's Sachin Kansal said, "we will take action, including potentially taking them off the platform."

There are two things at play here. First, Uber has to make sure people are actually being safe. (Obviously.) Second, it has to make people feel comfortable with the idea of being in a confined space with a stranger again — which may actually be the harder problem to solve, for Uber and everyone else.

  • "As people start going to work, they are going to have much higher expectations of us," Kansal said on the call. "They're going to have much higher expectations of a lot of other service providers."
  • Uber's term for this moment is "your second first ride." It will feel different to people, as uneasy as the first time they got into a stranger's car because an app told them to. (We sure got used to that one quickly, didn't we?)
  • Uber's spending $50 million on PPE for drivers to use and to give to riders, and created a number of in-app videos to help in the process. They show the right way to wear a mask, how to clean your space, and the like.

There are some universal lessons here that every company seems to be learning. Make the rules clear, and post them everywhere. Have people self-report their symptoms, and the situation around them, as often as possible. And make sure you're rethinking every part of the process, because there are all kinds of small things we can't take for granted anymore.


I'll take 'The most fun you can have in quarantine' for $200, Alex

By now, everyone's tried a janky game night on Zoom, whether it's Codenames or Jackbox Games or whatever else. But some companies are doing Zoom games in an official way, and it's paying off. Take for example Sporcle, whose move from bar trivia to Zoom trivia is already a success story.

  • "We realized we have a hit in our hands" pretty quickly, Sporcle CEO Ali Aydar told Protocol's Janko Roettgers. The online quiz company has been running trivia nights in bars since 2012, and is now hosting hundreds of virtual games on Zoom every week.
  • Players buy a $5 ticket for a game (per device) on Sporcle's website. The games are live, with a quizmaster host that tries to bring the energy of a bar to the computer screen. Questions are put up by the quizmaster on the Zoom shared screen, and teams submit answers via an online answer sheet.

There are plenty of videoconferencing apps to choose from, of course. But Zoom has a uniquely trivia-friendly feature: Its breakout rooms let teams huddle together during a game like they would at a bar table. "Zoom is the only choice for this," Aydar said.

Zoom could theoretically build itself a trivia ecosystem — or mimic Houseparty, whose success is partially attributed to its in-app games. Platform-wise, how long will Zoom's ambivalence last?

  • "I suspect if Zoom had a 'paywall' feature, there would probably be $100B+ in economic activity overnight," Box CEO Aaron Levie tweeted. The replies to his tweet are full of third-party developers describing how they're building exactly that.

But Aydar told Janko he's not concerned. He doesn't think Zoom would invest the time necessary to build out a trivia copycat — it has plenty of other stuff to do right now, after all.

  • Yet he does believe virtual trivia is here to stay. Some of the players signing up for Sporcle's Zoom trivia games are parents of young children who used to participate in bar trivia nights years ago. Others are introverts, or folks who just don't like bars.

For lots more on the rise of virtual trivia, check out Janko's story on Protocol.


Palo Alto Networks

Your growing remote workforce comes with an exponential growth of security challenges. Join this live webcast to hear from leading cybersecurity experts on how you can lower your organization's cybersecurity risk and ensure business continuity—plus a chance to have your questions answered in a live Q&A.

Join us here.


Putting you inside the computer

Online animated avatars always struck me as a cute but mostly pointless product. But yesterday, when Facebook announced that its avatars — which are basically identical to Apple's Memoji, or Snap's Bitmoji, or Samsung's AR Emoji, because why have one standard when you can have a thousand? — are rolling out in the U.S., it made clear that it sees avatars as more than just adorable replacements for selfies.

  • "There are so many different ways you can use your avatar including in comments, Stories, Messenger — and soon text posts with backgrounds, too," Fidji Simo, who runs the Facebook app, said when announcing the feature. Her point: The future of everything, even the likes you send and the gifs you choose, is personalization.

Maybe avatars are sort of the next extension of selfie culture. When you're taking a picture of the same thing a million others have, how do you make it unique? Put yourself in it. Avatars let users put themselves inside every virtual interaction.

  • There's an underlying AR and VR story here, too — it's no coincidence that Snap, Apple, Samsung and Facebook are all deeply interested both in avatars and mixed reality.
  • We're many years away from having photorealistic versions of ourselves inside virtual worlds. But who can build the best cartoonish approximation?

Making Moves

Adam Seligman is Mozilla's new COO. He's a veteran of Google, Microsoft and Salesforce, and will oversee almost everything at Mozilla that isn't Firefox. His job: grow those products. Fast.

Atul Gawande is no longer the CEO of Haven, the joint health-care company from Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway. He'll be chairman of the board instead. The Wall Street Journal reported that the company hasn't yet decided on a new CEO — or a new leadership structure.

Cynthia Hogan is leaving Apple, after being appointed to Joe Biden's VP search committee. She was the company's vice president for public policy and government affairs since 2016.

Marc Levoy left Google, where he led the team that built the company's terrific Pixel cameras, in March. The Information reports it's part of a larger shakeup in Google's hardware team, which comes after rough recent launches and amid plenty of belt-tightening.

Salesforce named Gavin Patterson as its new president and CRO. He'd previously been president and CEO of Salesforce International, and will now lead the company's entire sales organization.

In Other News

  • Protocol's Emily Birnbaum sends this in: The Department of the Treasury announced new small business loan guidelines (again) that left startups reeling (again). But this time around, it could be good news for VC-backed startups. Last month, the Small Business Administration warned that all companies had to assess other "sources of liquidity" before applying for loans — or else potentially face legal consequences. But on Wednesday, in a lengthy set of FAQs, the Treasury Department said essentially that the government will assume companies receiving loans less than $2 million acted in "good faith" and that borrowers with loans beneath $2 million are "less likely to have had access to adequate sources of liquidity in the current economic environment."
  • On Protocol: For a while, the tech backlash was a bipartisan issue. But now, as the House Judiciary Committee's initial antitrust investigation comes to a close, Republicans and Democrats are increasingly divided on how to proceed.
  • Don't miss this story from NBC about how Google is rolling back diversity and inclusion programs, allegedly because it fears being seen as anti-conservative. And reread Sofie Kodner's interview with Facebook D&I head Maxine Williams to understand why D&I is often too easy to ditch in hard times.
  • Amazon appears to be getting back to normal. It's been quietly removing restrictions from sellers, bringing back services, and speeding up delivery times again.
  • New York City became the latest to cap delivery app fees. DoorDash and the like can now only charge up to 5% for all orders placed through their platforms, and another 15% if they handle delivery as well.
  • The Boring Company completed digging a second tunnel underneath the Las Vegas Convention Center. The project is apparently on schedule, with the tunnels planned to open to the public in January 2021.
  • The Trump administration extended its executive orderbanning U.S. companies from using telecoms equipment made by "national security risk" companies — which is to say, Huawei, ZTE and the like. The order now extends through next year.
  • TikTok has been accused of breaching U.S. child privacy regulations by a coalition of 20 advocacy groups, which says the company improperly collected personal information such as names and email addresses.
  • The latest odd side effect of instantly going remote? Google reportedly doesn't have enough computers and phones for new employees, and has canceled all upgrades that were in progress. Remote onboarding is tough.

One More Thing

Hopefully he can make 2020 look … less like 2020

How's this for a fun full-circle moment: Ridley Scott, director of the iconic 1984 Apple ad, has signed a first-look TV deal with Apple. His Scott Free production company has made "Top Gun" and "The Good Wife" and a number of other hits. And now Scott and his team will make them for Apple TV+. In case you haven't noticed, by the way, Apple's quietly built a wrecking crew of a talent roster — it has deals with Alfonso Cuaron, Oprah Winfrey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and a number of other A-listers. I wonder if they'll all be making cool commercials now?


Palo Alto Networks

Your growing remote workforce comes with an exponential growth of security challenges. Join this live webcast to hear from leading cybersecurity experts on how you can lower your organization's cybersecurity risk and ensure business continuity—plus a chance to have your questions answered in a live Q&A.

Join us here.

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

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