Each week, we review the week’s news, offering analysis about the most important developments in the tech industry.
Hey there, newsletter subscribers. I’m Sheera Frenkel, cybersecurity reporter for The New York Times, bringing you the week’s tech news.
I’m writing this from my home office, after every tech source I was scheduled to meet during the week canceled, citing fear of contracting the coronavirus.
Instead of meeting in person, I’m speaking to people using a half-dozen different messaging services, online conference portals and video chat platforms. That tech is making it possible for thousands of workers across Silicon Valley to go on with their day-to-day jobs while taking precautions against the virus outbreak.
The coronavirus seems to be having an effect on all aspects of the tech industry, from social media policies around health misinformation to the way the big companies do business.
Working from home
Twitter, LinkedIn and Microsoft have asked their employees to work from home, if possible. Together, the three companies employ more than 75,000 people in the United States.
Other companies are taking a more piecemeal approach. Google instructed employees at its Dublin office to work from home, after one person there possibly came into contact with the virus. Facebook’s employees in China are working from home, and the company has pulled out of several conferences and canceled appearances by its top executives at public events.
A number of companies, including Amazon and Apple, have asked employees to cancel nonessential travel to and from China. They have also restricted visitors to their offices, and asked employees who exhibit any sign of illness to stay home until they are screened for the coronavirus.
Tweaks to services
Tech companies in the service industry have scrambled to come up with policies on how to keep their work force and customers safe.
Uber and Lyft have seen an uptick in business, as people afraid of using public transportation rely more on hailing rides. It’s unclear, however, how much guidance the two companies are offering their armies of contract workers on how to stay safe. Uber has asked drivers to wash their hands, while Lyft pointed drivers to the recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Airbnb told hosts and guests affected by the coronavirus outbreak that they could cancel reservations without incurring a charge. So did TaskRabbit.
Business has boomed for companies that offer services to help people conduct meetings online, such as Zoom and BlueJeans.
Google announced that it was giving G Suite customers free access to the suite’s advanced features. These include the ability to hold virtual meetings with hundreds of participants, or stream live events to tens of thousands of people. Microsoft also announced that it was offering six-month free trials of Teams, a product to help employees video chat with one another.
Social media companies began an aggressive response to misinformation related to the coronavirus.
Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, outlined what his company was doing in a long post. He said Facebook was working closely with government groups like the World Health Organization. Any search for “coronavirus” on Facebook immediately directs people to the W.H.O. or local health authorities. Facebook has also pledged to give the W.H.O. unlimited free ads to share information about the coronavirus.
In addition, Facebook is removing misinformation about the coronavirus from its platform and Instagram, which it owns.
YouTube is also linking to the W.H.O. on the top of search results for the coronavirus. While videos spreading conspiracy theories on the coronavirus could still be found, they did not appear in the first page of search results for YouTube.
Twitter said in a blog post on Thursday that it was working to prevent the spread of misinformation about the virus on its platform. The company also said it was expanding its policies on “dehumanizing speech” to include tweets that disparage those who have contracted the coronavirus. Previously, the policy applied only to tweets that dehumanized people because of their religion.
“It just so happens to be that we’re having this issue right now with the coronavirus,“ said Jerrel Peterson, who leads Twitter’s global safety policy team. “Whenever something happens in the world, people come to Twitter to talk about it. We are seeing lots of conversations about it.”
All of the social media companies are sure to be challenged as more cases of the coronavirus are reported across the United States.
Some stories you shouldn’t miss
The race to be the Democratic nominee for president has come down to two main candidates: Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. My colleagues Nellie Bowles and Erin Griffith took a look at the disparity between Silicon Valley tech leaders, who have been imploring Democrats to reject Mr. Sanders, and their employees.
Can YouTube quiet its conspiracy theorists? That was the provocative question asked by Jack Nicas as he described a new study from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. The study, which looked at eight million recommendations over 15 months, “provides one of the clearest pictures yet of that fight,” he wrote, “and the mixed findings show how challenging the issue remains for tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter.”
Nathaniel Popper looked at a different study, just in case you ever wanted to know if you could hire a hit man on the dark web. According to Nathaniel: “Don’t expect someone to get the job done. Experts and law enforcers who have studied these sites — almost all of them on the so-called dark web or dark net — say they are scams. There has not been a known murder attributed to any of them.” I guess that’s a relief?
And finally, we return to coronavirus. If fear of the virus is keeping you at home, and you want to order food via a delivery app, know that it comes at a price. My colleague Brian Chen found that ordering through an app could be up to 91 percent more expensive. Ordering through an app means paying multiple parties, including the driver, the app and the restaurant itself. That can really add up.