Apr 15, 2020

Axios Login

Morning checklist: feed your sourdough starter, plunk your kids in front of the iPad, breathe a sigh of relief that you have another three months to file your taxes, and hey, look: there's a new Login to read!

Today's Login is 1,196 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Coronavirus misinformation seeds ground for scams

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Fear of the coronavirus and misinformation about the pandemic have created a pool of targets for online scammers, Axios' Kyle Daly reports.

The big picture: Misinformation around COVID-19 is rampant online, from phony cures to outlandish claims that 5G wireless signals cause the illness. Cybersecurity analysts are also seeing an explosion in phishing and other digital cons that base their scams on these popular coronavirus myths.

What's happening: Researchers at cybersecurity auditor NormShield found a massive uptick in the first three months of 2020 for new domains that make reference to chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.

  • Those are malaria drugs that President Trump and others have suggested could be an effective treatment for COVID-19, but they have not been proven effective for that use and can have dangerous side effects.
  • The sharpest increase in the new domains came after President Trump first mentioned the drug in a March 19 White House briefing.
  • Many of them hosted phishing websites that purported to be online pharmacies where people could buy the drug, but were actually operations to lift visitors' credit card numbers and other billing and personal information.
  • "Bad actors prey on people's fears, and they prey on people's greed, and in this particular case, they're preying on people's fears," NormShield chief security officer Bob Maley told Axios.

That same dynamic is playing out across a wide range of coronavirus misinformation, said Ryan Kalember, who leads cybersecurity strategy for Proofpoint.

  • He said misinformation that Proofpoint has seen powering scams includes conspiracy theories that either China or the U.S. military developed coronavirus as a bioweapon; overstated claims about hydroxychloroquine and other drugs; and claims that the government has developed a cure or vaccine but is withholding it from the public.

Between the lines: Misinformation about the pandemic and scams related to it are each independently seeing rapid and massive growth.

  • Yonder, an artificial intelligence startup that monitors mis- and disinformation, recently found that it now takes three to 14 days for misinformation involving the coronavirus to spread from fringe platforms like 4chan forums to coverage in mainstream press outlets. It typically takes six to eight months for that to happen with other topics, according to Yonder.
  • At the same time, coronavirus scams across the board are exploding, aimed at both individual consumers and institutions like large corporations and health networks.
  • "There's no new tradecraft," said Kalember. "They're just seeing that coronavirus lures are increasing their click rate like nothing they've ever seen before."

The bottom line: Classic online scams like "Nigerian prince" emails are often rife with misspellings and obvious errors that serve as a kind of natural filter.

  • Cons are more likely to work on people who are gullible enough to ignore such signals and reply to a scam email or blindly click on a phishing link in the first place.
  • Similarly, people who are already falling for coronavirus misinformation make readymade targets for scammers.
2. Apple Maps data shows how distanced we are
Expand chart
Data: Apple; Chart: Axios Visuals

Apple shared fresh data Tuesday, based on requests made by Apple Maps users, showing just how much people around the world have reduced their walking, driving and public transit trips.

Why it matters: Without a vaccine or proven treatment for COVID-19, social distancing remains the key technique to slow its spread.

By the numbers: Globally, Apple says that route requests as of Monday were down 45% compared to the total on Jan. 13 in the U.S., down 46% in Germany, 70% in the U.K. and 85% in Italy.

Meanwhile, in other virus-related tech news:

3. Washington sues Facebook over political ads

The state of Washington sued Facebook on Tuesday, saying that the social network continues to sell political advertising in the state despite an agreement not to do so.

Why it matters: While Facebook continues to accept political advertising in most places, it had said it would stop selling such ads in Washington rather than comply with the state's strict disclosure law.

Details: Washington has a law that requires companies that sell political ads in the state to keep a variety of information on each ad, including the candidate or measure in question, who paid for the ad, the name and address of the advertising's sponsor, and the total cost of the advertising.

  • According to the lawsuit, which was posted on Seattle-area tech news site GeekWire, Washington claims Facebook sold ads to at least 171 political committees in Washington state, generating at least $525,000 in revenue.
  • For its part, Facebook said its policies prohibit ads targeted to users in Washington state that relate to state or local issues and candidates and expressed hope that it can resolve the issue.

History lesson: Facebook settled a previous lawsuit in 2018, agreeing to pay a $238,000 fine. Washington also settled a separate suit with Google around the same time.

  • Facebook has been criticized since for not properly enforcing its ban, such as in last year's Seattle City Council race, where one candidate managed to place Facebook ads while at least one of her opponents was blocked from doing so.

Go deeper: Facebook and Google's past show banning political ads is hard work

4. OnePlus launches its priciest phone yet

Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

OnePlus launched two Android smartphones on Tuesday, including its most expensive model yet, the OnePlus 8 Pro, which starts at $899 and also comes in a $999 version with more memory.

The big picture: Product launches have changed a lot in the coronavirus era, but less so for companies like OnePlus that already did a lot of their events online. The biggest issue in the smartphone business, though, is demand, amid a struggling economy and a shelter-in-place market that favors home electronics.

Details:

  • The OnePlus Pro features a 120-Hz refresh rate display, Qualcomm's top-of-the-line Snapdragon 865 chip and a 48-megapixel main camera, along with ultrawide and telephoto lenses plus a unique color filter camera.
  • The OnePlus 8, which starts at $699, features a similar processor with a 48-megapixel main lens and a 16-megapixel ultrawide lens.
  • Both models will be available on OnePlus.com beginning April 29. T-Mobile and Verizon will also sell versions of the OnePlus 8 suited for their 5G networks.

Between the lines: OnePlus managed to get a lot of online chatter around its products, in part because there just isn't that much new tech to write about right now.

Our thought bubble: OnePlus is a Chinese-owned phone brand that has developed a strong fan base in the U.S. which other, larger Chinese brands have struggled to duplicate. The company makes gorgeous hardware, and the new 8 and 8 Pro continue that trend, along with higher-end features.

  • One big question mark is how the new devices stack up on the camera front, which is critical for most smartphone buyers, but particularly in the high-end market.
5. Take Note

On Tap

  • I'll be talking Google in a live chat with BuzzFeed's Alex Kantrowitz at 1pm ET/10am PT on CJR's Galley website. Alex's new book, "Always Day One," takes an inside look at the various tech giants' operations.

Trading Places

  • Andrew Crow has joined Facebook as head of design for its Portal video conferencing hardware business.

ICYMI

  • Amazon slashed the commission rates it pays affiliates in various categories, a move that will further hurt publishers who use such revenue to augment advertising. (CNBC)
  • Airbnb has landed another $1 billion in debt financing, the same amount it announced last week as it looks to weather a huge drop in revenue due to the pandemic. (Bloomberg)
  • Fortnite is delaying its next season until June. (The Verge)
6. After you Login

In these challenging times, it's important for everyone to do their part. So, thanks go out to this bear.