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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
Big Tech companies, like other U.S. institutions, have donned a mantle of public service by mobilizing to help combat the coronavirus epidemic — but they still have big antitrust targets on their back, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.
The big picture: Federal and state enforcers and Washington lawmakers are all investigating potential anticompetitive practices by tech giants like Google and Facebook. The pandemic has complicated the timelines of these probes, but hasn't knocked them off their tracks.
Where it stands: Facebook revealed last summer that the FTC was investigating it on antitrust grounds shortly after the company agreed to pay $5 billion to settle a separate privacy probe by the same agency.
The pandemic factor: The coronavirus could delay the FTC's work.
The pandemic factor: A DOJ spokesman declined comment on how the tech probes are affected by the coronavirus.
Where it stands: The House Judiciary Committee last year launched an investigation into competition in digital markets, recently hearing complaints from small and medium-sized companies about the power of tech giants.
The pandemic factor: Antitrust subcommittee chairman David Cicilline said in a statement Thursday that the pandemic will delay the investigation's timeline, which originally aimed to produce a report by the end of the first quarter.
The pandemic factor: The tech investigations continue and their priorities haven't changed due to the coronavirus, according to a spokesperson for the New York AG's office.
What's next: Antitrust investigations, once launched, tend to develop lives of their own. But the coronavirus throws big new uncertainties into the mix.
Margaret has more here.
Elon Musk's Thursday tweet that "kids are essentially immune" from COVID-19 seemed a clear-cut violation of Twitter's new coronavirus misinformation policy. The platform had highlighted that exact claim as an impermissible statement, but it nonetheless decided not to remove the tweet.
Why it matters: People have already heard mixed messages about the virus, including dismissive comments from Musk himself, and misinformation can only worsen the pandemic.
What they're saying: Twitter says it concluded Musk's tweet wasn't "definitive."
"We reviewed the Tweets, and they don't violate our rules at this time. Please continue to share anything you think we should take a closer look at — we'll continue to rely on trusted partners, such as health authorities, to flag content that is harmful."— Twitter, in a statement to Axios
Meanwhile: The medical community has been clear that kids can catch the disease and transmit it, even if they are less likely to show symptoms or become seriously ill themselves.
Flashback: Musk has been downplaying the threat of the virus for some time, tweeting on March 6 that "the coronavirus panic is dumb," and has made other comments since suggesting the virus worries were overblown.
Of note: Just as Twitter was allowing Musk's comments to stand, Facebook was webcasting CEO Mark Zuckerberg's interview with Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Air CEO Shane Hedge last week sent an employee to the offices of a New York nonprofit to pick up more than 20 hard drives and upload their contents to the cloud to accommodate an abrupt shift to remote work, Axios’ Kia Kokalitcheva reports.
The big picture: Despite the popularity of cloud-based work tools, all kinds of sophisticated organizations ran into technological challenges when the spread of the coronavirus suddenly forced them to send employees to work from home.
Between the lines: Many companies are set up to have some small portion of their employees working remotely at any given time, but few are prepared for all of them do so at once.
Even Silicon Valley's tech giants ran into problems. Some Apple employees couldn't access work tools from home due to security precautions around unreleased products, while Yelp had to quickly purchase laptops for employees who didn't have them for work already, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The bottom line: Many companies will likely rethink their policies on remote work, both culturally and technologically, after this crisis.
Yelp announced a program on Friday that will provide $25 million, primarily in the form of free advertising, to small businesses that make it through the coronavirus pandemic.
Why it matters: Small businesses have been hit especially hard amid the near shutdown of public life — but so, most likely, have companies like Yelp that depend on such businesses.
Facebook, which also gets a significant amount of advertising revenue from small businesses, announced its own $100 million program earlier this week, also aimed at giving free advertising to small businesses.
What's next: Yelp said this is just a start. "We're continuing to explore ways we can do more to support local businesses, and our teams are also working with our regional and national clients to ensure we are supporting them during this period."
Whew. That was a lot. How about some cats on ice.