Mar 9, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

D.C. readers: Join Axios' Margaret Talev tomorrow at 8am for conversations on cybersecurity and the news of the day.

  • She'll sit down with Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency director Christopher Krebs and former White House Homeland Security and Counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco.
  • RSVP here.

And, whether you are in D.C. or not, today's Login is 1,283 words, a 5-minute read.

Situational awareness: Twitter struck a deal with funds Silver Lake and Elliott Management to buy back shares and make some board changes as Silver Lake takes a $1 billion stake. Jack Dorsey will remain CEO, despite Elliott's earlier call for his ouster.

1 big thing: "Online first" census must navigate digital divide

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The government is encouraging Americans to respond to this year's census online, prompting concerns that millions who lack internet access may not be properly counted, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: The 2020 census determines how federal funding is allocated across the country, so any undercount matters, and one caused by the digital divide would skew heavily against less well-off citizens.

What's happening: Americans will receive invitations in the mail to respond online to the census beginning March 12.

  • This is the first "online first" census, though some households will also receive a paper questionnaire. Part of the calculus for which households get the hard copy relies on whether they're in areas with spotty or no internet access.
  • Though the online response is encouraged, all Americans do have the option to respond by mail or phone.

The problem with "online first," Federal Communications commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel believes, is that the U.S. Census Bureau may be underestimating the number of Americans without reliable internet access and could end up stretched too thin to properly count those people.

Details: The Census Bureau is relying in part on FCC data on broadband deployment across the country to help determine what areas lack access.

  • Official FCC figures suggest 21 million Americans don't have broadband, but Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said that number "radically overstates" the level of service because of how the FCC collects the data. A Microsoft study revealed that more than 162 million people don't use the internet at broadband speeds.

The problem could be compounded, Rosenworcel says, because the census is hiring fewer people than in 2010 to follow up with households that don't respond.

Yes, but: Households that don't respond online will receive a paper questionnaire before the government has to send someone out.

  • On March 20, the Census will begin posting response rates for 2020 to track where more efforts are needed.

The big picture: The first online census underscores the tension between government systems and processes moving online before significant portions of the population can follow.

Go deeper: This year's census may be the toughest count yet

2. Outbreak weighs on gig economy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

While a growing number of white collar companies are asking employees to work from home, gig economy companies seem to be doing little to protect workers in the face of the novel coronavirus — though pressure is mounting for them to do more, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

Why it matters: Engineers and business managers at companies like Uber and Lyft can bring their laptops home and access corporate health resources, but the independent contractors who ferry passengers, hot meals and groceries cannot — and that difference highlights a painful gap in the U.S. workforce, which Silicon Valley has had a large hand in reshaping.

Driving the news: On Friday, Sen. Mark Warner sent letters to the CEOs of Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, GrubHub, Instacart and Postmates, urging them to set up health funds to compensate drivers who have to cut back their hours — and thus, earnings — out of coronavirus concerns.

  • Late Friday evening, Uber announced it will compensate drivers for up to 14 days if they're diagnosed with COVID-19 or put under quarantine by health authorities. Lyft will do the same for an unspecified duration.
  • Instacart says that some of its "shoppers," who pick groceries, qualify for sick pay.

So far, the companies have mainly distributed guidelines to drivers about keeping cars clean, washing their hands, and staying home if they feel sick.

Between the lines: One obstacle for these on-demand delivery companies is that providing sick leave and compensatory pay could make it harder to deny that their workers are employees — not just independent contractors.

  • Some of these companies are fighting a new California law that makes it harder to classify their workers as contractors.

Meanwhile, Instacart and Postmates are rolling out "no-contact" delivery options in an effort to minimize concerns among customers and drivers.

  • DoorDash is emphasizing that customers can put instructions in the app for drivers to leave orders at their door.

Demand for gig delivery services seems to be growing as the virus spreads. Instacart said Thursday that its sales this past week were 10 times higher than the prior week — and 20 times higher in states like California and Washington, where the largest numbers of cases have been reported.

Yes, but: Only 46% of service workers in 2017 received sick-leave benefits, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in contrast with 93% of workers in management, business and finance, per the Washington Post.

A bright spot: Apple on Sunday became the latest company to announce that it will pay its hourly workers while encouraging some employees to work from home, joining Microsoft, Google, Twitter, Facebook and Amazon.

3. Biden clip labeled "manipulated media"

Twitter has placed a "manipulated media" label on an edited video of 2020 candidate Joe Biden delivering a speech. The video was originally tweeted by White House social media director Dan Scavino and retweeted by President Trump.

Why it matters: This appears to be the first time Twitter has used that label to call out a visual that it considers to have been doctored with the intention of manipulating users.

Details: The tweet was labeled as "manipulated media" based on Twitter's Synthetic and Manipulated Media policy, which states that "you may not deceptively share synthetic or manipulated media that are likely to cause harm."

  • For now, the label only shows up when it is seen in users' Twitter feeds, not when the tweet is clicked on directly. According to a spokesperson, Twitter is working on a fix.

The tweet itself featured a video of Biden delivering a speech that's clipped to show him saying "We can only re-elect Donald Trump." It doesn't include the rest of the former vice president's sentence from the speech in which he says, "We can only re-elect Donald Trump, if in fact we get engaged in this circular firing squad here."

The big picture: Tech companies like Twitter and Facebook have struggled with ways to fact-check and police misinformation on its platform without appearing biased.

  • Twitter's new policy went into effect on March 5. Twitter has previously said that a doctored video posted last month by former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg would likely be labeled as false when its new manipulated media policy eventually went into effect.
  • Meanwhile, Facebook similarly labeled the Biden video as misleading early Monday, based on the assessment of third-party fact checker Lead Stories.

Our thought bubble: Often when a platform labels something as manipulated or false, its label is weaponized or slammed for being used in a biased manner.

  • Also, Facebook said in 2017 it would no longer use "Disputed Flags" — red flags next to fake news articles — to identify fake news for users, because academic research showed they didn't work and they often have the reverse effect of making people want to click more.

Go deeper: Tech platforms struggle to police deepfakes

4. Women remain underrepresented in boardroom
Source: MSCI All-Country World Index. Note: Reflects boards of 3,046 publicly traded companies based in 46 countries. Chart: Axios Visuals

Female representation on corporate boards around the world has doubled in the last decade but is still lagging, Axios' Courtenay Brown reports.

Why it matters: Sunday was International Women's Day, and — despite unprecedented pressure from shareholders and others to diversify boardrooms — the prospects for gender parity there are bleak. Researchers say it could take another 25 years before there are as many women as men in boardrooms worldwide.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • It's the start of conference season — well, virtual conference season. Kicking things off is Microsoft's WSL Conference for the Linux-meets-Windows community, which takes place online Tuesday and Wednesday.

Trading Places


  • A man rode a bike past a house that was burglarized. Google Maps tracked him and he became a suspect. (NBC News)
  • Some people are livestreaming their sleep on TikTok to earn digital coins, or as the NYT headline writer put it: "How to make money in your sleep." (New York Times)
  • Australia's information commissioner is suing Facebook over privacy violations stemming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. (The Guardian)
6. After you Login

If you didn't get a chance to see the Axios on HBO segment on female athletes, it's worth a watch. And yes, I am crushed it wasn't me who got to interview Nneka Ogwumike.

Ina Fried