Apr 3, 2020

Axios Login

It can be hard to tell the week from the weekend, and Login is here to help. When you wake up in the morning, check your inbox. If there is no Login, it means it's the weekend and you can relax; if there is one, it means it's time to work (or at least pretend to).

Today's Login is 1,234 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Americans wary of giving up data to fight coronavirus

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A new survey shows most Americans don't want app makers or the government to scrape their data to combat the coronavirus pandemic, Axios' Kyle Daly reports. That's despite a push by some in the public and private sectors to do just that.

Why it matters: Efforts to fight the pandemic are putting new pressure on privacy protections, particularly around health information, but this study's results shared with Axios suggest the U.S. public isn't ready to give them up.

By the numbers: Some 54% of Americans surveyed from March 21–27 by consulting firm Oliver Wyman Forum said they'd be comfortable sharing health status data, such as whether they'd recently visited a doctor, in the interest of monitoring public health.

  • But that was the only type of data that a majority of those polled said they'd be OK sharing. Roughly a third of respondents said they'd accept the gathering of data on airline travel patterns or of publicly available biometric data, such as mass temperature scanning across groups of people.
  • Even fewer wanted their wireless location data tracked, either on an individual basis or in aggregate, to assess social distancing practices and possible coronavirus transmissions.

Respondents were selective about who they'd be willing to hand data to.

  • 55% said they'd want a positive COVID-19 test result shared with public health authorities like the CDC and WHO, compared to 35% and 27% for local and federal government officials, respectively.
  • Just 21% would want a positive result shared with an app that discloses where people are infected through anonymized or aggregated data, while 9% would share it with an app that discloses the names of people infected.
  • The U.S. results roughly tracked with those found from polling people in other countries, including Germany, the U.K., Spain and Singapore.
  • But respondents in Spain and Singapore, which have both taken aggressive steps against the outbreak to vastly different degrees of success thus far, were notably more open to sharing data with apps.

The big picture: The findings come as a variety of government and private actors are already racing to tap data to track and contain the spread of the coronavirus.

  • The New York Times on Thursday released a nationwide map of Americans' recent travel patterns using wireless location data sourced from data analysis firm Cuebiq.
  • Another data outfit, Unacast, is similarly tapping cell-phone location data to produce a running Social Distancing Scoreboard ranking how well people in different states are doing at avoiding one another.
  • IBM, Google, data startup SparkBeyond and smart thermometer provider Kinsa Health are among the companies that have also sought to use Americans' data to map coronavirus infections, hotspots and symptoms.
  • And the Washington Post recently reported that federal officials have expressed interest in harvesting location and other data from tech companies to track and battle the spread of the coronavirus.

Be smart: So far, these efforts to track the virus draw on publicly available information, like aggregated location data, that most Americans may not realize they're already giving up.

What they're saying: "Technology can and should play an important role during this effort to save lives," read a joint Thursday statement from more than 100 civil society groups including Amnesty International, the Center for Digital Democracy, EPIC and Human Rights Watch.

  • "However, an increase in state digital surveillance powers, such as obtaining access to mobile phone location data, threatens privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of association, in ways that could violate rights and degrade trust in public authorities — undermining the effectiveness of any public health response."

Go deeper: Read the full story from Kyle, including the survey methodology.

2. Google will report travel trends

Photo: Google

Google on Thursday announced a program to give leaders around the world more data during the coronavirus crisis on where people are traveling (and where they aren't) based on aggregate, anonymous data collected by Google Maps.

Why it matters: Health experts have been asking for more location data to make decisions. This move aims to meet some of those needs without sharing any sensitive individual data.

Details: The COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports, as the new documents are known, will show recent trends (over the past 48 to 72 hours) of the percentage increase or decrease in visits to places like retail stores, recreation spots, groceries and pharmacies, parks, workplaces and residential locations.

  • Google will offer the reports initially for 131 countries, offering data at the regional and local level (in the U.S. it will provide data for states and counties).
  • Google is sharing the reports with governments and releasing it publicly, but it is not sharing the underlying data, which comes from Google Maps users who have opted in to share data. (Google has used such data in the past to show how busy various restaurants and bars tend to be at a particular time.)

What the reports do: The new information could help leaders get a sense for how well shelter-in-place orders are working and whether different measures might be needed to reduce traffic to a particular kind of location or, say, whether more or less public transit is needed at a given time.

What they don't do: These reports won't allow authorities to track individuals, trace contacts or glean information on who is infected. Google is also only showing the percentage change for each category in the report, not the absolute number.

Our thought bubble: This is a good way for Google to offer data that it already possesses a form that is likely to be less controversial. However, some governments will likely push for more.

Meanwhile: As Axios' Sara Fischer scooped on Thursday, Google will now allow some ads dealing with the virus. Democrats had argued that in banning ads criticizing President Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic, including on YouTube, Google was shielding his campaign in a critical election year.

3. Startups can get stimulus loans

Venture capital-backed startups will become eligible for some of the $350 billion in small business loans being guaranteed by the federal government, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told the Axios Pro Rata Podcast on Thursday.

Why it matters: It was initially unclear whether venture-backed startups would be able to take part.

"I just got off the phone with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and this is going to be solved," McCarthy said in an interview with Axios' Dan Primack.

In context: The Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans of up to $10 million for companies with fewer than 500 employees, was included in the $2 trillion stimulus plan passed last week. But it also maintained something called the "affiliation rule" for most applicants, which likely excluded many small businesses that count venture capitalists among their shareholders.

Between the lines: This approach still leaves out possibly thousands of private equity-owned small businesses. McCarthy says there could be future efforts, or maybe even a subsequent piece of legislation, to address such companies, but for now he and Mnuchin agreed that "control" is the simplest and fairest way to determine eligibility.

You can listen to Dan's interview here.

4. Instacart sends health safety kits to workers

Photo: Denver Post/Cyrus McCrimmon

Grocery delivery company Instacart says that, beginning next week, it will make free safety kits available to the workers who shop for its customers, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports. Instacart will provide face masks, hand sanitizer and a thermometer to its shoppers and distribute masks to in-store workers amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Why it matters: Some Instacart workers began a strike on Monday to put pressure on the company to provide them with benefits, safety supplies and additional pay as they — and delivery workers at large — have become a lifeline for many Americans staying in their homes.

Go deeper: Virus spread emphasizes precariousness of gig economy work

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • (tumbleweeds blowing)


6. After you Login
Screenshot: Getty's Twitter account

Whether you take part in the contest or just look at the entries, it's worth checking out this thread from the Getty Museum, asking people to recreate famous works of art using household objects.