Apr 17, 2020

Axios Login

Wait a minute. Something's different in here.... No. My bad. It's exactly the same as yesterday. Carry on.

Today's Login is 1,110 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Bluetooth-based contact tracing finds broad support

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Consensus seems to be building globally around the idea that Bluetooth-based contact tracing could be a practical use of technology to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Both governments and advocacy groups agree that using Bluetooth to sense the proximity of users' phones could be more effective and less of a civil rights problem than tapping location-based data that apps and service providers often collect.

Driving the news:

  • The EU on Thursday said that mobile apps can help slow the spread of the disease, when combined with ample testing and medical care resources. But it cautioned that such apps need to be interoperable and also protect privacy.
  • The EU runs the globe's strictest privacy regime, so the guidelines it has offered suggest a path forward for the Bluetooth-based approach.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union offered up its own guidelines on Thursday, calling for apps that minimize data retention and central storage, augment human contact tracing and are, among other things, voluntary, non-discriminatory, and built with input from health professionals. They should also be narrowly tailored to this epidemic and their use should end when the pandemic ends, or if they are shown to be ineffective at slowing its spread, the group said.

The big picture: A number of entities are working on similar technology approaches that would appear to be able to meet the goals outlined by the EU and ACLU.

  • Most prominently, this includes the joint Apple-Google effort announced last week, which aims to build a foundation for Bluetooth-based contact tracing in both the iOS and Android smartphone operating systems.
  • Other efforts include the PACT project from MIT and those from several groups in Europe.

Yes, but: Any contact-tracing approach — those above or something new — will need widespread adoption to be of much use.

  • Privacy advocates have argued that people need to trust the system or it won't be widely used enough to have an impact.
  • Widespread testing is also a prerequisite. Contact tracing can't work unless people actually know they are infected so they can alert others.

Meanwhile: Pew reported in a new survey that Americans are not only divided on whether they find tracking apps acceptable, but are also skeptical such apps will really be effective.

What they're saying:

  • ACLU staff technologist Daniel Kahn Gillmor told journalists Thursday that he is glad to see invasive location-tracking apps fall by the wayside as momentum builds for apps that use Bluetooth-based proximity. "None of them are perfect but they are substantially better than these attempts at location-specific tracing," Gillmor said.

Go deeper:

2. Facebook scales back its Libra ambitions

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The team behind the Facebook-backed Libra digital currency effort announced several key changes scaling back what once seen as a monetary instrument that could be used to rival and subvert national currencies.

Why it matters: The moves are designed to address concerns from governments and others, but also represent a further reining in of ambitions for the initiative, which launched with great fanfare last year.

Among the changes:

  • The Libra Organization will move to develop several individual digital "stablecoins" each tied to a different official currency. It will still develop a multicurrency coin, but that will be tied to the other single-currency coins rather than a basket of national currencies.
  • It's looking a lot less blockchain-y. Instead of the permissionless system originally envisioned, the Libra organization said it is exploring ways "to offer new entrants the ability to compete for the provision of core network services and participate in the governance of the Libra network while ensuring the Association's ability to meet regulatory expectations."
  • Facebook plans a more phased rollout.

Between the lines: The Libra effort has been seen as a way for Facebook to expand the ways it makes money as the company plots a shift toward private, encrypted messaging, which could limit advertising potential.

3. Uber pulls 2020 forecast

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Uber said on Thursday that it's withdrawing its forecasts for certain revenue and earnings metrics for the year, and will write down between $1.9 billion and $2.2 billion from its investments in other startups hit by the coronavirus pandemic, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

Why it matters: While Uber is seeing a surge in its food delivery business, demand for rides has dramatically dropped — by as much as 60–70% in Seattle at the peak of its outbreak — as people stay home to curb the virus spread.


  • Uber also says that its COVID-19 sick paid leave for drivers will reduce revenue by an estimated $17 million to $22 million in Q1, and an estimated $60 million to $80 million in Q2.
  • Food delivery company GrubHub also became the latest company to withdrew its guidance for 2020 this week, citing the effects of the pandemic.
  • Uber shares rose more than 5% in after-hours trading following the announcements and stayed at that level before markets opened Friday.
4. California approves T-Mobile-Sprint deal

The T-Mobile-Sprint merger closed earlier this month, but did so without final approval from California's Public Utilities Commission. That approval came Thursday, along with several conditions.

Why it matters: While the deal wasn't likely to be unwound, this removes the key remaining legal cloud over the transaction.

As part of its approval, California regulators mandate that T-Mobile:

  • Provide 5G wireless service with speeds of at least 100 Mbps to 99% of California's population by the end of 2026, and 300 Mbps to 93% by the end of 2024.
  • Provide 5G wireless service with speeds of at least 100 Mbps to 85% of California’s rural population, and speeds of at least 50 Mbps available to 94% of California’s rural population, by the end of 2026.
  • Have fixed home internet access available to at least 2.3 million California households, of which at least 123,000 are rural households, within six years.
  • Maintain or improve current 4G LTE service quality and coverage for existing customers during the transition to 5G.
  • Offer the low-income California LifeLine program for as long as it operates in California, and enroll at least 300,000 new LifeLine customers.
  • Increase jobs in California by at least 1,000 compared to the total number of current Sprint and T-Mobile employees.

The CPUC will also appoint an independent monitor to oversee compliance and the agency notes it may take enforcement action should T-Mobile not comply with any of the conditions.

Meanwhile: The FCC also approved T-Mobile's plan for transferring its Boost prepaid business to Dish Network, a key component of a DOJ settlement that allowed the deal to go through.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • You made it to another Friday. (Just in case you've forgotten what day it is.)

Trading Places

  • Venture capitalist Megan Quinn is joining Pokémon Go creator Niantic as COO.


  • Verizon is buying corporate video conference provider BlueJeans. (CNBC)
  • Facebook says it expects most employees will be working from home through May and that it doesn't expect to host in-person events with more than 50 people through mid-2021. (Axios)
  • Microsoft and the NBA announced a wide-ranging partnership that will see Azure powering AI-enhanced consumer experiences, among other collaborations. (GeekWire)
  • Sony is likely to have limited production of the PlayStation 5 this year due to its high cost and expected lower demand. (Bloomberg)
  • Instacart launched a partnership with Costco for prescription delivery. (TechCrunch)
  • ICANN is delaying its planned sale of the .org domain to Ethos Capital after fresh objections from California's attorney general. (The Register)