Mar 17, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

I t h o u g h t a b o u t w r i t i n g t h e w h o l e n e w s l e t t e r l i k e t h i s, b u t I a m t o l d t h i s t y p e o f d i s t a n c i n g i s n o t h e l p f u l a n d j u s t p l a i n h a r d t o r e a d.

Anyway, today's login is 1,090 properly spaced words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Tech shapes the new stay-at-home economy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As the coronavirus crisis forces daily life across the U.S. into a new homebound template, the tech industry is swooping in to reshape how we shop, eat and entertain ourselves, Axios' Scott Rosenberg, Kia Kokalitcheva and I report.

The big picture: Trends toward e-commerce, delivery services and online entertainment have long been underway, but this moment is accelerating them — and pushing the companies and industries behind them into a new position of dominance.


Online shopping was super-convenient in ordinary times, but it's even better when you're not supposed to leave the house.

  • Amazon announced Monday it plans to hire 100,000 new full and part-time employees in the U.S. to meet surging demand. It also said it's increasing pay by $2 an hour through the end of April.
  • Until recently Amazon was pushing toward ever faster deliveries, but in the current crisis it is reporting some delays, and it's had trouble keeping some heavily in-demand items in stock.

Ordering groceries for delivery has also ramped up, helping with customers' jitters about staying stocked up with the essentials while avoiding crowded supermarket aisles.

  • Earlier this month, Instacart said that its sales the past week were 10 times higher than the prior week — and 20 times higher in states like California and Washington.

Restaurants are also shifting fast to deliveries and curbside pickups as a way to stay in business and help consumers who still want to order hot meals.

  • According to OpenTable data, on-site dining dropped as of Saturday by 42% compared with a year ago.
  • Meanwhile, food delivery companies like GrubHub and Uber Eats are temporarily suspending commission fees to help smaller restaurants as they work to stay afloat via delivery. They're also rolling out no-contact delivery options so customers and drivers don't have to interact with each other.

With social distancing and new shelter-in-place rules multiplying, Americans are turning even more decisively to digital services not only for remote work but for entertainment.

  • The profusion of bingeable offerings from streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and their many competitors offer stuck-at-home viewers a cornucopia of diversion — just as cinemas, theaters and concert halls are shutting down.
  • Universal announced Monday it would make its in-theater movies available online — abandoning the "theatrical release window" and breaking what may be Hollywood's last taboo.
  • Parents are already struggling with trying to both work from home and manage their kids, but the task would be even harder without iPads, smartphones, Nintendo Switches and all the other screens in our homes.

Our thought bubble: The longer our public health crisis lasts, the more deeply these changes will etch themselves into the economy.

  • Many brick-and-mortar retailers are already in trouble.
  • Restaurants will be hard pressed to stay afloat doing take-out service alone.
  • Movie theaters can't stay closed indefinitely without going bankrupt.

The bottom line: As one of its side effects, the coronavirus pandemic could seal the fate of the digital economy's offline competition.

Go deeper: Coronavirus forces Hollywood into uncharted territory

2. Coronavirus reshapes app charts

A quick look at the iPhone App Store bestsellers shows just how much life has changed: the No. 1 download in the U.S. is videoconferencing service Zoom, with other top apps including Google Classroom, TikTok, Netflix and Disney+.

The big picture: We still live on our smartphones, even when we are practicing social distancing. We just use different apps.

Details: A number of app developers are offering extended free trials or discounted subscriptions, while Apple's editors have compiled a list of titles well suited to staying home.

Among the offers:

  • The Peloton App is extending its usual 30-day free trial period to 90 days, making it easier to do workouts from home.
  • Meditation app Shine launched Care for Your Coronavirus Anxiety, a free resource curated by Shine in partnership with Mental Health America.
  • Headspace, another meditation app, is offering teachers, administrators and staff in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia free access, and also has a collection of "Weathering the Storm" content that is free for all.
3. Report urges alternative to tech liability changes

A new report out Tuesday from a non-profit focused on online free expression is calling on federal lawmakers to mandate more transparency from tech companies rather than weakening the industry's liability shield, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: Internet platforms could embrace policies like transparency requirements as a far more palatable alternative to eroding their immunity from lawsuits over user-posted content, which they say is vital to their existence.

Context: Lawmakers seeking to rein in platforms over a variety of concerns, including online child exploitation, are considering altering the longstanding shield, found in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Details: Ranking Digital Rights, which is affiliated New America's Open Technology Institute, warns in "It's Not Just the Content, It's the Business Model: Democracy's Online Speech Challenge" that changes to Section 230 will lead to online censorship as companies take an overly cautious approach to content.

What they're saying: The report recommends legislation that would require online platforms to:

  • publish their rules for what content and targeted advertising they allow;
  • issue reports on the content and ads they take down for breaking the rules; and
  • explain the algorithms that determine what ends up on someone's screen.

"This kind of transparency is not the end goal," Nathalie Maréchal, one of the authors, told Axios. "This kind of transparency is a necessary first step toward accountability."

What's next: Ranking Digital Rights plans to produce a second report later this spring on federal privacy legislation and improving tech company governance.

4. Google delays its nationwide coronavirus portal

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Google said Monday that it would not launch its nationwide web site for coronavirus information as planned, instead saying it hopes to have it up later this week, as Scott and I report.

Between the lines: As Axios reported this weekend, the national website was only planned after President Trump blindsided the company by announcing it at a Friday press conference.

The big picture: A separate site from Google's sister company Verily, aimed at helping patients determine whether they need coronavirus testing, launched Sunday in two Bay Area counties. But the site quickly reached capacity.

What they're saying: "With local and national guidance evolving rapidly, Google will continue working with relevant agencies and authorities to roll out a website later this week that will surface authoritative information for people in the U.S., including on screening and testing," a statement from Google read.

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Gaming firm Activision Blizzard named former SoundCloud PR head Helaine Klasky as chief communications officer.
  • Brian Brooks, Coinbase's chief legal officer, is leaving to take the No. 2 job at one of the U.S. agencies that oversees banks.


  • The White House is seeking help from artificial intelligence in answering questions about the coronavirus. (Axios)
  • The Department of Health and Human Services faced a "cyber incident" Sunday as it coped with meeting public demand for coronavirus information. (Axios)
  • At least five Amazon warehouse workers in Italy and Spain have tested positive for the coronavirus. (Bloomberg)
  • Microsoft subsidiary Github is acquiring npm, a service that hosts a vast collection of Javascript libraries. (CNBC)
  • Uber is suspending pooled rides in the U.S. and Canada to try and help contain the spread of coronavirus. (Reuters)
  • Facebook will announce today two new efforts to help support newsrooms and fact-checkers in efforts to promote quality information about the coronavirus. (Axios)
6. After you Login

The penguins are running the aquarium.

Ina Fried