May 8, 2020

Axios Login

Well, it's me again. So you now know it's a weekday. To find out which weekday, you'll have to keep reading.

Today's Login is 1,456 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Reopening debate opens a rift in tech

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The debate over reopening the economy is cleaving along political lines. In Silicon Valley, that split is generally coming between technocrats and libertarians, Axios' Scott Rosenberg reports.

Why it matters: The pandemic has only amplified tech giants' power, ensuring their mindset and choices will play an outsize role in shaping how the U.S. reopens its economy. Nailing or bungling that process could save or cost the nation thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

The big picture: Tech's most influential companies and leaders were among the first to send workers home when the pandemic hit, and the industry's "trust the data" mindset has shaped their response.

  • Big Tech CEOs like Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai and Satya Nadella have presented measured positions on how and when a careful return to work makes sense, consistently leading their peers in other industries in pushing back estimated reopening dates.

A leading voice throughout the crisis has been industry icon Bill Gates, who has devoted much of his philanthropic career to public health and long warned of the dangers of a pandemic.

  • In talks and articles, Gates has urged Americans to trust scientific experts and proceed with caution, recently writing that, as leaders weigh the "risks and benefits of opening various parts of the economy … it will be tricky if one state opens up too fast and starts to see lots of infections."

Yes, but: As the weeks of shutdown drag on and the economic price of the coronavirus crisis soars, a dissenting tech faction has coalesced around a "damn the virus, full speed ahead" sentiment.

  • Elon Musk led the charge with an expletive-punctuated tirade labeling shelter-in-place orders as unconstitutional, "fascist" and a "forcible imprisoning of people in their homes" during a Tesla earnings call last week.
  • Musk's position set off sympathetic echoes among some well-known venture capitalists, including Adam Draper ("time to free us for the sake of progress") and Jason Calacanis.
  • Thursday on Joe Rogan's podcast, Musk doubled down on his stance: "We should not give up our liberties too easily. I think we did that, actually.... If you are at risk and wish to take a risk with your life, you should have the right to do that."
  • Reality check: Individual risk-taking during a pandemic often puts others at risk, too.

Between the lines: CEOs of companies that deal in physical goods (like Musk's Tesla) are feeling sharper pressure to reopen fast than those who run software empires that can operate more smoothly and safely by remote.

  • Jeff Bezos, whose Amazon straddles these two worlds, has mostly stayed low in this debate.

Our thought bubble: Libertarianism — an ideology that runs deep in parts of the tech world — stresses individual rights over community responsibility. That puts it at odds with public health practices for fighting epidemics, which lose effectiveness unless broadly followed.

The bottom line: Founders and VCs are gamblers and risk takers, but most people are not. Laws and customs usually aim to balance individual rights with group needs. Most tech CEOs share the public consensus to give our collective needs some extra priority right now.

2. Zoom takes action on privacy and security

Zoom founder Eric Yuan in New York on the day of the firm's 2019 IPO. Photo: Kena Betancur/Getty Images

Zoom is making moves to step up security for its users amid pressure from lawmakers, regulators and critics, Axios' Kyle Daly reports.

The big picture: Zoom is keen to neutralize any threats that may stem from the increased scrutiny that has accompanied the popularity of its videoconferencing service during the coronavirus pandemic.

What's happening: Zoom on Thursday agreed to implement security measures to settle an investigation from New York Attorney General Letitia James.

  • The protections, some of which the company has already announced as part of its 90-day plan to improve security, include increased checks for security holes; more host controls over who can join a meeting; and a more expansive ban on abusive conduct.
  • The day before, New York City schools separately lifted a ban on teachers and students using Zoom after reaching its own security and privacy agreement with the company.
  • And Zoom announced Thursday that it acquired encrypted messaging platform Keybase. The deal, Zoom's first-ever acquisition in its 9-year history, is intended to help it offer end-to-end encryption on large meetings, which has proven challenging for rivals, Axios' Dan Primack notes.

Context: Zoom has faced criticism over a range of issues, including security flaws, overstated claims about usage and encryption, and failures to protect users against "Zoombombing," in which strangers join open Zoom meetings to share abusive or obscene material.

  • Zoom has spent recent weeks building out its policy apparatus, just this week recruiting a longtime tech trade group executive as its Washington point person and naming former Trump national security adviser H.R. McMaster to its board.

The bottom line: Big tech companies have had years to grapple with privacy, security and government scrutiny regarding the two. Zoom's meteoric rise is forcing it to act on those concerns in a fraction of the time.

3. Help Main Street allows orders from small shops

Photo: Help Main Street

In the latest version of its volunteer effort, the Help Main Street project is linking directly to the many small businesses offering their own ordering systems, in an effort to help them avoid giving a cut to various middlemen.

Why it matters: Large, tech-based intermediaries like Grubhub often take a significant cut of revenue, eating into badly needed cash for already struggling restaurants.

Background: Help Main Street began two months ago as a way for people to buy gift cards to support small businesses. Then the volunteer-run effort added GoFundMe so people could donate directly to businesses.

  • With the new update, Help Main Street offers links to the direct ordering pages of more than 30,000 of the 121,000 small businesses in its map-based directory. Help Main Street has about 20 volunteers, mostly from New York's tech scene.

What they're saying: Help Main Street founder Nihal Mehta, a partner at VC firm Eniac Ventures, said the team was inspired to add the component by a viral Facebook post that showed how one restaurant got just $376 in revenue from more than $1,000 worth of GrubHub orders.

  • "That's nuts," Mehta said. "At a time like this you want to help businesses, you don't want to make money from them."
  • Mehta said he encourages businesses that want to offer takeout to use a system like Toast, that charges a flat $50 per month, rather than taking a big commission. For gift cards, he encourages them to use Square.

The big picture: Help Main Street is one of a number of efforts launched by tech investors to help small businesses. Another, Frontline Foods, started by Ryan Sarver, helps feed health care workers and provide business to local restaurants. Others have helped collect masks and procure other needed supplies.

"We're really happy to see all that stuff and play our part," Mehta said.

4. Tech firms help governments meet testing needs

Photo: Adobe

As more and more cities look to automate the COVID-19 testing process, tech companies are working together to ensure that people can use an app or website to schedule tests instead of waiting in a potentially dangerous line.

Why it matters: Many testing locations remain overwhelmed by demand, but some are still underused. More efficient coordination could help make better use of the resources we have.

Driving the news: In Tarrant County, Texas, Adobe, Oracle, Accenture and Splunk (along with some smaller firms) teamed up to help people determine whether they are eligible and then find a testing site and schedule a time.

Yes, but: Tech partnerships don't guarantee broader coordination, either among the companies themselves or the many municipalities that are all trying to set up similar programs.

  • In many cases, a local government ends up working with whichever tech companies it happens to have a relationship with.

"I wouldn't say it's very coordinated right now," Adobe general counsel Dana Rao told Axios.

What's next: Now that the partners have rolled out their system in Tarrant County, they hope to offer it to other state and local governments.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • You did it. You made it to Friday. It's almost time to take off those work slippers and sweats and put on something comfy for a change.

Trading Places

  • Peloton marketing head Carolyn Tisch Blodgett is stepping down at the end of the month as she prepares to welcome a third child this summer.


  • Alphabet's Sidewalk Labs unit is dropping its controversial project to create a "smart city" in a Toronto neighborhood. (Axios)
  • Uber beat revenue expectations in the first quarter but faced heavy losses stemming primarily from write-downs as it girded for the full impact of the pandemic. (Axios)
  • Google hasn't yet decided to merge its many chat applications, but it's at least putting the same person in charge of them — former Microsoft executive Javier Soltero, who now runs Google Apps and G Suite. (The Verge)
  • Controversial face recognition firm Clearview AI says it will stop working with private companies. (BuzzFeed News)
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren and eight other senators pressed Amazon on whether recent firings were retaliation for coronavirus whistleblowing. (New York Times)
  • YouTube and Facebook are among the companies taking down the "Plandemic" viral conspiracy theory video that makes wild and false claims about the origin of the novel coronavirus. (Washington Post)
6. After you Login

Check out this quarantined dad, who made 1,040 baskets while his 6-year-old son calculated his shooting percentage. I think Harvey is closer to being able to hold up his end of that than I am to being able to carry out mine.

(Thanks to Login reader Kellie Kreiser for the tip to this one.)