April 2, 2021
Good morning! This Friday, everybody's trying to build vaccine passports and it's making everything crazy, companies are way behind on planning for hybrid work, Wikipedia is trying to fix its gender problems, a look at how anti-Asian bias affects the tech industry and more.
The Big Story
Vaccinated? Prove it.
Vaccine passports are coming. Actually, sorry, "vaccine passes" are coming. Most people seem to agree the "passport" term is a loaded one and we're better off calling them something else. Anyway, there are security risks, and there are questions about how data is collected and stored post-pandemic. But everyone I talk to says those are mitigable issues, and that returning to normalcy a little faster is worth the work.
- New York worked with IBM on a tool called the Excelsior Pass that venues will use to screen people who want to go to concerts, weddings and the like. As Protocol's Mike Murphy reported, IBM's project is huge and has a chance to be a de facto standard.
- There's also the Vaccination Credential Initiative, the WHO is working on something, the state of Hawaii has its own plan, there's one specifically for airlines, the World Economic Forum has one called CommonPass, Walmart and other pharmacies are building their own and on and on the list goes. Anyone who knows some xCode seems to be building a vaccine pass system.
This is heading toward the contact-tracing mess all over again. If we end up with 100 systems that don't speak to each other and aren't compatible with the places we need to use them, that won't actually accomplish very much. But the alternative — waiting on governments to build them, or banking on yet another magical Apple-Google partnership — isn't going to go so well either.
- The Biden administration is working on a national standard, but Press Secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged that "there will be no centralized universal federal vaccinations database, and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential."
So what's the right answer? I asked Eren Bali, the CEO of Carbon Health — which, yes, has its own vaccine pass system called Health Pass — what he thought. Ultimately, he said, verified vaccine records "will have to either be health care providers like Carbon Health, or they'll have to be government." In some cases, both: Carbon is providing its tech to local governments free of charge to build their own pass systems.
- Bali figures there should be a handful of data providers — likely the same groups actually doing the vaccinating — and then a huge number of integrators. Your vaccine pass should be in your Apple Wallet, in your Delta profile, embedded in your email signature. Anywhere you might log in with Google, you could log in with Vaccine.
It's a classic tech problem, this one: The market is moving fast and the opportunity is enormous, so everyone piles in first and figures it out later. But increasingly, the industry seems to know it might be worth taking a beat and having a conversation, to solve this problem without having to solve it 100 individual times. And then get back to building as fast as possible.
Are you ready for the hybrid office?
Big Tech wants to go back to the office. A lot of startups are embracing the upsides of remote companies, but Google, Amazon, Apple and others have all made clear that they intend to remain office-centric companies. Even Facebook and Microsoft, which have embraced the idea of perma-WFH, are still pushing to open their HQs again.
- Amazon is the latest to announce its plans. About 10% of employees are already back in offices, and the company said, "We expect more people will start coming into the office through the summer, with most back in the office by early fall."
- That roughly matches what the other giants have said. All over the industry, things will start to reopen slowly, increase as more people get vaccinated and be fully up to speed around the time school starts in the fall.
Going back won't be easy, though. The summer months are going to be particularly messy, but in general companies are only just starting to grapple with what comes next. Conference rooms are now green-screened Zoom rooms. Long rows of shoulder-to-shoulder iMacs now have to be spaced out. Remember how terrible meetings were when a few people weren't in the room? How are you going to manage the team's schedule when virtual school is still going?
- Culture might be the most important — and difficult — piece of the puzzle. "When people are remote I worry about what's their career trajectory going to be," IBM's Arvind Krishna told Bloomberg. "If they want to become a people manager, if they want to get increasing responsibilities or if they want to build a culture within their teams, how are we going to do that remotely?"
- IBM's plan is to have most workers spend at least half the week in the office, and the company is redesigning its offices to be better for group work. Solo work will mostly happen at home.
Anna Kramer writes: Until a massive internal fight broke into the open about whether 2020 Iowa Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield met Wikipedia's notability requirements for a biography, almost no one was paying attention to controversies about who gets a biography on the site, and who makes those decisions.
Women are massively underrepresented on Wikipedia. Of the more than 1.8 million English-language biographies on Wikipedia, only about 18% of them are about women. The Wikimedia Foundation has begun pushing a campaign to change that.
- The Wikipedia problem is a systemic problem that travels far beyond just what volunteers and editors choose to highlight, according to Wikimedia's Adora Svitak. In order for a person to meet notability and reliability requirements, there needs to be articles, videos and content written about important people on reliable and trusted websites.
- "We wanted to turn the focus to media, to conferences, to thought leadership. Please write about women. Your Medium, your blog, your news — we have to get more stories about women in the broad base of secondary literature," Svitak told me. "It's part of making a better and more representative Encyclopedia. We can't have the best Wikipedia it can be if half the population is left out."
It's hard for Wikipedia to track exactly how it's going, but the organization is encouraged by the edit-thons and panels it has held over the last month. New bios for women like Myra Hindley, Judita Vaičiūnaitė and Judith Curry are showing up on the site as well. And hey, if you're looking for a weekend writing project? Check out WikiGap and WikiProject Women in Red for the long list of women still missing.
Technology has been the leading sector in trust since Edelman began its Trust Barometer 21 years ago. Since that time, trust in business has risen while trust in technology has declined – and this year, the decline has been dramatic. Join Edelman for a discussion with tech industry leaders on what's next for Tech & Trust in 2021. This event is moderated by Protocol.
People Are Talking
On Protocol: Asian Americans working in tech are tired of the "model minority" myth and the way they're treated by the industry, Preston Cho told Megan Rose Dickey:
- "It's where you look at an Asian American in tech and immediately kind of picture them as being an engineer, or you immediately picture them as somebody who is good with computers. One of the things that's been very hard for people is to see us Asian Americans as more than just engineers, as more than just people who are tapping away at the keyboard and writing code."
And Awaken's Michelle Kim said that everyone needs to acknowledge that anti-Asian hate and racism is not a new or isolated thing:
- "The fact is that anti-Asian hate, anti-Asian racism and bias exist in every layer of our society. And just like anti-Blackness, what I've been asking people to do is don't just put out a statement as if you're not part of the problem. You are also part of the problem. You are also complicit in holding up this system of white supremacy."
Want to compete with Uber and Lyft? Beat their UI, L.A. County's John Gordon said:
- "The cold water that's been splashed on the face of a lot of transit agencies over the past decade is the realization that we need to pay attention to our riders' needs, and we need to build an experience that is competitive."
Jim Bridenstine is joining the board at Viasat. The former NASA administrator does know a thing or two about satellites.
Jesse Cohn is leaving Twitter's board, a marker of the end of the company's standoff with Elliott Management.
Coinbase is going public April 14, and will have the excellent ticker symbol COIN.
Keith Rabois has a new gig as a Barry's Bootcamp instructor. He's apparently all in on EDM and incline sprints, so next time you're in Miami get ready to rock.
Don Box is leaving Microsoft. He hasn't identified his new gig yet but said he has one.
Bill Wafford is Thrasio's new CFO, joining from the same role at JCPenney. Thrasio, which acquires small Amazon merchants, just raised at a $1.35 billion valuation.
In Other News
- On Protocol | Policy: Facebook won its SCOTUS robocalling case. The justices voted unanimously in favor of Facebook in a case that accused the company of violating the country's decades-old robocalling laws with security-alert texts.
- Facebook's Giphy acquisition is getting an in-depth antitrust review in the U.K. after Facebook declined to offer concessions to U.K. authorities.
- LG might be getting out of the smartphone business, The Korea Times reported. It's reportedly tried to sell the business but is struggling to find buyers.
- On Protocol: Amazon's trying to build more lively gadgets. First up? The Echo Show 10, which features a display that can dance.
- Amazon has thought about opening physical discount stores for electronics and home goods, Bloomberg reported, as a way to get rid of unsold inventory. The plans seem to have been put on hold by the pandemic.
- Snap looked at ways to get around Apple's IDFA ban using a "probabilistic matching" technique, The Financial Times reported. Meanwhile, Forbes reported that developers have started having their apps rejected for using device fingerprinting techniques.
- The Compass IPO went pretty smoothly, with its stock closing up just under 12%. Bet Bill Gurley's mad that Compass priced at the bottom end of an already lowered range, though.
One More Thing
NFT of the day
Paying to put your name or logo on an athlete's jersey? Not new. Paying upwards of $5,000 for an NFT that gives you the right to "exclusive lifetime ownership" of part of Croatian tennis player Oleksandra Oliynykova's right arm, which you can ink up any way you choose (within reason, of course). And if she keeps ascending the tennis rankings, who knows? You can sell her arm to Gatorade or somebody. Why tattoo yourself when you can tattoo somebody else?
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Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or our tips line, email@example.com. Enjoy your weekend, see you Sunday.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Preston Cho's name. This story was updated on April 2, 2021.