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Your watch could detect COVID-19

Your watch could detect COVID-19

Good morning! This Friday, wearables are fulfilling their health-tech promise thanks to COVID-19, Twitch started a safety committee, and the next big tech hub might be in Arizona.

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People Are Talking

Forcing people to go back to the office is a losing strategy, Eric Schmidt said:

  • "It's never a good idea to force your employees under fear of losing their jobs to come to work. It just doesn't produce the right outcome."

Angela Merkel's email was hacked in 2015, and she's pretty certain Russia was behind it:

  • "I can honestly say that it pains me. Every day I try to build a better relationship with Russia and on the other hand there is such hard evidence that Russian forces are doing this."

Will anyone go to the movies this year? One executive said it all depends on Christopher Nolan:

  • "If 'Tenet' doesn't come out or doesn't succeed, every other company goes home. It's no movies until Christmas."

AT&T spent $4 billion to get HBO Max going, and WarnerMedia's Bob Greenblatt said it did so at lightning speed:

  • "We didn't have the luxury of spending three to six months figuring out what product we wanted to build and what the service should or shouldn't be. All of our decisions had to be made quickly."

The Big Story

Searching for more than a 'you're sick!' notification

Oura CEO Harpreet Rai told me he wasn't really thinking about how his company's product, a ring that tracks users' vitals to help them sleep better, could be a tool in the fight against COVID-19.

But then a user in Finland who had no COVID-19 symptoms was told by their Oura that their temperature was elevated and they might be sick. So they went to get tested for the virus — and it turned out they had it.

  • That's when Ashley Mason, a psychologist and researcher at UCSF, got in touch. "She said, 'I've seen the temperature data, it's incredible,'" Rai told me.
  • Oura and Mason quickly spun up a study, which now includes 3,000 frontline workers, to see if the Oura ring might be able to detect and predict early signs of coronavirus.
  • More than 40,000 existing Oura users have also opted to share data that includes every heartbeat while they sleep, and a stream of body-temperature readings. These studies have been running for a couple of months now.

Companies around the wearables industry, whose products seemed for so long to sit somewhere between fitness devices and pseudoscience, are now hoping to prove their ability to help people understand their health and do something about it.

  • Fitbit and the Apple Watch are involved in a number of studies, too, including one with Stanford that aims to predict COVID-19 through similar means.
  • "There's lots of smartwatch wearers out there," Stanford's Michael Snyder told Gizmodo. "There's 30 million active users from Fitbit, millions from Apple Watch. We're talking tens of millions of people, all with these smartwatches that could be health protectors for infectious diseases like COVID-19."

Rai said Oura has been slow to communicate observations to users — saying "your temperature is a bit high!" is one thing, attributing it to an illness is something else entirely. "Having the backing of an independent party, if we were to do anything, is super important," he said.

  • Rather than just flash a warning saying "YOU'RE SICK!" Rai said Oura's goal is to give people a moment to connect their data and their lives. "We want people to look within," he said. "We feel like people should be pulled and not pushed."

Just how much wearables can tell us is still hard to know – and how companies and devices should communicate information like that is key, too. It's the same with contact-tracing apps: How do you give people the right information without scaring them unnecessarily or underselling the situation?

Streaming

Twitch appoints its overseers

Twitch gets a lot of flack for its policies — whether they're too strict (like when a streamer was suspended for nudity over her use of body paint) or too loose (a 35 minute livestream of a terrorist attack was broadcast on the site last fall). With traffic skyrocketing on the platform during lockdown, Twitch is looking to find a balance — and it's asking for outside help.

The company created a new Safety Advisory Council, made up of eight members: a mix of academics and professionals with online safety expertise, plus a few Twitch creators.

  • These committees are the cool new thing in tech: Twitter, Facebook and TikTok all have their own guidance bodies for community safety. But the fact that Twitch has added creators to its council makes it unique.
  • All of the creators picked for Twitch's council have large followings, but a company spokesperson told Protocol they were picked not because of their popularity but their diverse experiences with treatment, related to both identity and policy enforcement, on the platform.
  • Another differentiator from other social sites: Twitch's group will not make moderation decisions, only offer insight, the spokesperson said.

In addition to community safety, there's a huge financial incentive for Twitch to figure this out.

  • It launched a partnership with Comscore in March to make streaming audiences more measurable, and build a better ad business on Twitch.
  • Creator and council member Zizaran said on Twitter that he's "particularly hoping to make a difference on transparency and consistency." Creators have lamented in the past that being banned or suspended can have implications for their monetization options, and clear rules on what's worthy of suspension could help both creators and Twitch to avoid losing income.

In some ways, the council is a way to improve the platform's relationship with its creators, many of whom make their living streaming on Twitch. One of the major issues listed that the council will address: work-life balance.

A MESSAGE FROM PALO ALTO NETWORKS

Palo Alto Networks

Your growing remote workforce comes with an exponential growth of security challenges.

Watch yesterday's webcast to hear from leading cybersecurity experts on how you can lower your organization's cybersecurity risk and ensure business continuity.

Watch here.

Cameras

The computer is the camera is the computer

At this point, computers have pretty much learned to see. Which is both exciting (all your pictures look better!) and terrifying (the facial-recognition panopticon is upon us!).

Now Sony's leveling up on the whole situation:

  • The company announced a new image sensor that integrates machine learning capabilities into the sensor itself, meaning cameras that use it won't need extra hardware or an internet connection to do some processing.
  • Why does that matter? Because uploading everything to the internet is a bandwidth suck and a security risk, but processing on your device typically requires expensive extra hardware. Doing it all in one place could make things faster, simpler, and more efficient.

Cameras with tech like this could do facial recognition without uploading photos anywhere, for instance, and thus avoid creating hackable or searchable databases. Sony's also touting possibilities for automation, where having super-fast object recognition is hugely important.

  • The announcement is a particularly big deal because it's coming from Sony, which is a huge supplier of camera parts for smartphones and other mobile devices. Sony's Mark Hanson told The Verge that Sony shipped about 1.6 billion sensors last year.

Let's not get carried away, though: This is just the first generation, and the new sensors are more than twice the price of the current iPhone's camera rig — which uses three Sony sensors, in case you were wondering. So it's going to be a while before this shows up in your pocket. But I bet it'll get there.

Making Moves

Cruise, GM's self-driving company, laid off 8% of its staff and closed an office in Pasadena, but actually plans to continue hiring. Rather than force budget-related cuts, COVID-19 seems to have prompted Cruise to rethink its priorities.

Envoy named Philip Lacor as its first-ever CRO. He was previously global VP of sales at Dropbox, and he'll now be tasked with getting Envoy into as many companies' office-reopening plans as possible.

Apple acquired NextVR, an event-focused VR startup. Why? Apple never answers that about its acquisitions, but it's clearly interested in AR and VR, entertainment, and streaming. NextVR hits them all.

In Other News

  • On Protocol: After a years-long race over who can offer the most, best perks in their tech offices, remote work and changing priorities might mean the end of fancy food buffets, in-building gyms and other things employees used to take for granted.
  • Want to live like Elon Musk? You can buy seven of his homes right now, if you've got $100 million or so lying around. Barring that, maybe just poke through the Zillow listings for some interior design ideas.
  • Facebook and a group of telecoms are spending almost $1 billion on 23,000 miles of undersea cables between Europe, the Middle East and Africa, which could expand internet access all over the region.
  • Reddit is expanding its Community Points system, using cryptocurrency to reward good user behavior. It's still a small test, on two subreddits for now, but the early results must have been good.
  • Next time you're out there fundraising, you might run into the Chainsmokers: The musical duo raised a venture fund and is planning to invest $50 million in startups. Guess you're going to finally have to learn all the words to "Closer."
  • Zoom is opening engineering centers in Phoenix and Pittsburgh, where it will also hire 500 software engineers in the next two years. Sounds like it's deliberately expanding into more livable, affordable places than your average tech hub.
  • Speaking of Arizona: The Wall Street Journal reported that TSMC, the world's largest silicon chip manufacturer, is planning to build a $12 billion, cutting-edge chip factory in the state.

One More Thing

The weird, wild, wonderful worlds of Animal Crossing

I've never played a single second of Animal Crossing. And yet I'm totally fascinated by what's being built inside this adorable world — from a terrific talk show called Animal Talking to the unbelievably intricate worlds inspired by John Wick and filled with flowers and so many other things. Between this, Minecraft, and Fortnite's creative modes, there's no denying the art that's being created inside video games. Even celebs are getting into it. Everybody's saying it's time to build, and I can't think of a better place to do so.

A MESSAGE FROM PALO ALTO NETWORKS

Palo Alto Networks

Your growing remote workforce comes with an exponential growth of security challenges.

Watch yesterday's webcast to hear from leading cybersecurity experts on how you can lower your organization's cybersecurity risk and ensure business continuity.

Watch here.

A quick end-of-week thanks to Jamie Condliffe, Source Code's editor, and Sofie Kodner and Shakeel Hashim, its producers. Most of all, thank you for reading!

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your weekend, see you Monday.

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