Mar 24, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

I really enjoy being in your inbox to greet you each morning, so please listen to the doctors: stay home and stay safe.

Today's Login is 1,374 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Tech turns to AI to track coronavirus spread

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Tech companies are using artificial intelligence and other tools to comb through coronavirus data to track cases and find transmission hotspots, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: Finding patterns in otherwise discrete data points could help make sense of where and how the virus is spreading in the U.S., and could aid in allocating the country's limited testing and treatment capabilities.

Driving the news: IBM, through its Weather Company subsidiary, is planning to launch an incident map as soon as Wednesday that tracks confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths at the county level.

  • The company is reviewing various forms of coronavirus information on county and state websites using AI, including its Watson natural language processing that turns text into machine-friendly data.
  • The project checks the sites for updates every 15 minutes and aggregates them into its map, which can be found on the Weather Channel mobile app or the website. (IBM owns the digital assets affiliated with the Weather Channel and supplies the network with its weather data.)

The big picture: The map ties in with a tech industry push, much of it relying on AI, to marshal data to assess where the coronavirus may already be and where it might be headed.

IBM is separately using the data that powers its map alongside other information to create an interactive dashboard for researchers. It will also provide a trends chart showing whether the number of cases is accelerating, flattening or declining.

  • And the company is leading the industry side of a public-private partnership the Trump administration announced Sunday aimed at giving COVID-19 researchers access to supercomputing resources to aid their work. Other companies involved in the project include Google, Amazon and Microsoft.

Google subsidiary Kaggle, an online community of data scientists, opened a competition last week to use data to forecast the number of cases and fatalities that will be confirmed between March 25 and April 22 in a number of regions around the world, with one subset dedicated to California.

  • The primary goal is to identify factors that appear to affect the transmission rate of the coronavirus, Kaggle CEO Anthony Goldbloom told Axios.
  • "Does controlling for temperature or humidity improve forecasts? What is the impact of policy actions like school closures, cancelling large gatherings, self isolation policies?" Goldbloom said in an email.

SparkBeyond, a startup that provides AI-driven data analysis tools to businesses, gathered publicly available data on infections and patient routes in Italy to create a heat map predicting the risk of contracting the virus in certain locations, CEO Sagie Davidovich told Axios.

  • The company, which is working on a U.S. map, used AI to draw insights from the data — like proximity to a gas station correlating with viral spread.

Kinsa Health has long made data from its internet-connected thermometers available online, which is proving useful in tracking the coronavirus in real time.

Yes, but: Even with sophisticated analytical tools at the ready, there remain big holes in the data that's available in the U.S., as testing remains very limited and the amount of information that's available to the public varies by state.

2. Twitter pulls its earnings guidance

Twitter on Monday withdrew its prior earnings guidance, saying it now expects first-quarter revenue to be down from where it was last year.

My thought bubble: We will surely see tons more of this. I think the only reason we haven't seen more is that most companies don't have any kind of handle on what actual business will look like in the new financial world shaped by the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, in other virus-related news:

  • Yelp announced today it is partnering with GoFundMe to allow people to donate to small businesses directly from a Yelp page. Yelp and GoFundMe have pledged to match up to $1 million in donations.
  • Instagram is debuting several new coronavirus-related policies and features including more educational resources within search, only recommending virus-related content that originates from credible health organizations and a new feature to allow people to remotely browse the photo-sharing network together.
  • Instacart plans to hire 300,000 more shoppers in coming months.
  • Facebook is offering additional paid time off to employees who need to take care of a sick relative or tend to a child home from school.
  • Amazon will give paid time off to part-time and seasonal employees, following a backlash, BuzzFeed News reports.
  • The Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on startups selling at-home coronavirus tests.
3. Free content helps parents stuck at home

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A growing number of media outlets and online learning companies are offering free kids' content, tools and resources to parents who are struggling to entertain their kids at home while also working remotely, Axios' Sara Fischer and Kim Hart report.

Why it matters: As schools and offices shut down because of the coronavirus outbreak, parents are trying to figure out how to do two full-time jobs at once. Access to free content and educational programs can help reduce that burden.

Driving the news: Time Inc. says that for the first time it will provide parents at home with a free version of "TIME for Kids," its 25-year-old school-based publication. The package includes the entire TIME for Kids digital library.

  • Amazon Prime Video will offer family titles from its library and its subsidiary IMDB's free-ad supported library.
  • Amazon-owned Audible says it is now offering free audiobooks for kids stuck at home.
  • Nickelodeon has launched a new website with free content and educational coronavirus resources, like videos of SpongeBob SquarePants teaching children how to wash their hands.
  • The network is also offering Noggin, its preschool-aged subscription streaming service, for free for three months, according to a statement from its parent company ViacomCBS.

A slew of e-learning companies are also putting their classes and online tutorials online for parents to access for free.

Some movie companies, including Disney and Universal, are fast-tracking kids content to streaming platforms given that most U.S. theaters are closed. Those titles, however, are only available for an on-demand fee or with a monthly subscription service.

Yes, but: Most of these kids' activities and content rely on strong broadband connections. Many of the country's families, particularly in rural areas, do not have the same level of broadband access at home as they do at work. Additionally, the places they used to rely on for WiFi, like libraries, have also closed.

The big picture: Many parents who are forced to simultaneously balance child supervision and working at home have thrown screen time limits out the window.

  • Total day viewing of many of the largest children's TV networks, like Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, Boomerang and Nickelodeon, have experienced massive upswings, per Digiday.

Go deeper: Parents' daunting new coronavirus reality

4. House virus package includes student WiFi

House Democrats' coronavirus response plan unveiled Monday would direct funding for WiFi hotspots for students and bar broadband providers from imposing data caps during the crisis, Margaret reports.

The big picture: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the legislation after Republicans and Democrats in the Senate failed to move their own stimulus measure forward.

Details: The House's $2.5 trillion "Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act" includes several provisions related to tech and telecom issues for the duration of the national emergency, including...

  • $2 billion for schools to pay for WiFi hotspots and connected devices including laptops or tablets for students in need.
  • $1 billion for an "emergency lifeline benefit" to aid low-income households in obtaining broadband service.
  • Codifying and expanding the Federal Communications Commission's "Keep Americans Connected Pledge," in which broadband providers promised not to cut off service to people unable to pay . The bill also would prohibit setting limits on the amount of data customers can use, outside of network management practices.
  • Empowering the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to impose civil penalties in price-gouging cases related to the coronavirus pandemic.

A draft summary of the bill that Senate Republicans are backing includes allocations of:

  • $200 million for an FCC telehealth program.
  • $25 million dedicated to rural distance learning, telemedicine, and broadband programs.
5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places


  • U.S. tariffs on goods made in China won't apply to the Apple Watch after Apple won an exemption. (Bloomberg)
  • A study finds voice recognition from the leading tech companies misidentifies words more often from black people than from white people. (NYT)
  • Japanese tech giant SoftBank is selling $41 billion in assets after a series of investments went sour. (Wall Street Journal)
6. After you Login

Check out drone footage of America's largely empty cities.

Ina Fried