Mar 16, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Well, hello there. I can't promise what the week ahead will bring, but I'm guessing it will be one unlike any other thus far. And we will be here to bring you the tech side of that experience.

Today's Login is only 1,278 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Trump's Google claims fit his pattern of tech hype

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

President Trump's exaggerated claims about a Google-developed website to triage coronavirus diagnosis and treatment nationwide are the latest instance of a longstanding presidential pattern of tech-related misrepresentations and hype, Axios' Kyle Daly reports.

Why it matters: At a moment when the public needs solid, trustworthy information from leaders, institutions and news sources, the president is spreading confusion and doubt.

Driving the news: Trump has several times since Friday insisted that Google is working with the government to build a nationwide website to help manage coronavirus diagnosis and treatment.

  • That claim blindsided Google when Trump first made it Friday.
  • Verily, the health-tech unit of Google parent Alphabet, is now ramping up a pilot project in two San Francisco Bay Area counties that resembles a smaller version of what Trump suggested, while Google scrambles to launch an entirely new, less personalized nationwide information portal about the virus.

The big picture: It's not the first time that Trump has made a big promise or distorted claim on behalf of a tech company that later has to be pulled back to reality.

  • He said in 2017 that Apple would be building three "big, big, big" new plants in the U.S. That hasn't happened.
  • He said he "opened a major Apple Manufacturing plant in Texas" in November. In fact, he was taking a tour of an existing Austin facility where an Apple contractor has made Mac Pros since 2013.
  • He heavily touted a deal that he negotiated alongside then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker awarding Taiwanese electronics company Foxconn billions in tax incentives to build a major plant. That's been mired in years of delays and uncertainty, with none of the manufacturing jobs promised yet materializing.
  • He said wireless providers were "very happy doing what they were doing" but are now planning to build 5G networks "at my request." Companies have spent years aggressively racing to develop the technology, infrastructure and airwaves needed for 5G wireless service.

Be smart: Tech companies have learned not to contradict the president, even when they know he is wrong, to stay on his good side.

  • The industry has fared well in the Trump years, saving billions in tax cuts, benefiting from the administration's aversion to regulation, and winning government backing in international disputes.
  • But Trump's administration is pursuing multiple antitrust investigations, and the president has regularly complained that Facebook, Google and Twitter are biased against him and his supporters.

The other side: Trump has feuded with Amazon CEO (and Washington Post owner) Jeff Bezos.

  • Trump long insisted Amazon is ripping off the U.S. Postal Service and launched a task force to look into the issue.
  • More recently, Microsoft landed a $10 billion Pentagon contract months after Trump spoke out against it going to Amazon, long the heavy favorite to win it. (The contract is now held up in litigation.)
2. Tech's efforts to help with coronavirus crisis

Companies from across the tech industry are trying to figure out not only how best to support their employees during the coronavirus crisis, but also how they can be a resource to their users.

Why it matters: There are a lot of unknowns about what the next few weeks and months hold, but there are some clear needs as the U.S. heads into uncharted territory.

Here are some of the ways tech companies and leaders are pitching in:

  • Home internet service providers and wireless carriers are lifting data caps and pledging not to terminate service to those who can't pay their bills, something requested by both the FCC and some on Capitol Hill.
  • The FCC granted temporary permission to T-Mobile on Sunday to use additional unused spectrum in the 600 MHz band (provided by Dish Network, Comcast and others) in order to meet increased demand and help support telecommuters, telehealth and online learning.
  • The makers of video conferencing software, including Zoom, Google (with its Hangouts Meet), Microsoft (with its Teams) and Cisco (which owns WebEx), have expanded their free offerings to help businesses and schools that need to rapidly increase their use of such products.
  • Many educational tech firms are making their products free while schools are closed.
  • Tech investor Sam Altman is leading a push to help fund work to rapidly increase the supply of ventilators and other technical efforts to aid in the COVID-19 response.
  • Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma pledged Friday to send the U.S. a million face masks and 500,000 coronavirus test kits. Sunday, he tweeted a photo of the first planeload departing from Shanghai.
  • Tech companies have been at the forefront of trying to ensure that hourly support workers get paid even as their services may not be needed as offices close and full-time employees telecommute.

The big picture: Behind the scenes, companies are also looking to see if they can do more to aid in the response, from helping support hospitals, researchers and doctors, to supporting workers without jobs and helping families in the community.

3. Uber's coronavirus payout plan

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Uber released more details on Sunday about how it will compensate drivers personally affected by the coronavirus. As Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports, it will be based on their average daily earnings over the last six months.

Why it matters: Ride-hailing and delivery drivers are among the most vulnerable as the virus spreads, both because of the very social nature of their jobs and because they don't qualify for sick leave as independent contractors.


  • The driver must have completed one trip in the 30 days before March 6 and be diagnosed with COVID-19, be placed in quarantine, asked to self-isolate by a health authority, or have their account restricted because Uber was notified of a diagnosis or exposure.
  • Uber will use the average daily rate a driver has earned in the last six months, or since their first trip if they signed up more recently.
  • For example, a San Francisco driver who earned on average $28.57 per day will get up to $400, while one who earned $121.42 per day will get up to $1,700.
  • Drivers will have 30 days since diagnosis or quarantine date to file a claim online and will be eligible for up to 14 days of compensation.
  • This will not apply in the case of a citywide shutdown of the service.

Lyft, which also announced it will compensate drivers diagnosed or quarantined, will base the amount on their earnings over the previous four weeks, though it hasn't released more details.

The bottom line: Neither company's approach is perfect, and many circumstances could lead to disappointing payouts for drivers. But the gig economy companies' arrangements never anticipated this kind of crisis.

Go deeper: Virus spread emphasizes precariousness of gig economy work

4. Coronavirus' impact on Apple, Amazon and Netflix
  • Apple's iconic, and often crowded, stores around the world are closing down until March 27 for the virus crisis, the company announced over the weekend, except in China.
  • Runs on household goods are affecting not only your local grocery shelves but also the biggest online merchant. Over the weekend Amazon Prime reported shortages of some staple products and delivery delays.
  • Netflix has shut down all film and TV production in the U.S. and Canada for two weeks. Apple and other content producers are taking similar steps, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
5. Take Note

On Tap

  • A lot of people are trying to figure out how to work from home while also serving as chef, tutor and playmate to their newly housebound kids.
  • Y Combinator is slated to do its Demo Day Monday — online only, of course.

Trading Places

  • Microsoft announced late Friday that founder and former CEO Bill Gates is stepping down from its board.
  • Former American Express CEO Ken Chenault will leave Facebook's board of directors following disagreements with CEO Mark Zuckerberg over governance and political policies, according to the Wall Street Journal. (Chenault also happens to be taking the board seat Gates is separately vacating at Berkshire Hathaway.)


  • French regulators Monday fined Apple €1.1 billion for what they said were anticompetitive behaviors involving Apple's wholesalers and resellers. (The Verge)
  • Social media is faring better against virus misinformation than it has in the partisan political world, Ben Smith writes. (New York Times)
  • Amazon hopes to persuade giant brick-and-mortar stores like Walmart and Target to adopt its cashierless retail system. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Microsoft teams went down across Europe for two hours Monday morning, just as quarantined Europeans were starting their day. (The Verge)
  • TikTok directed moderators to suppress videos shared by people deemed unattractive or poor-seeming based on leaked internal guidelines. (The Intercept)
6. After you Login

If you need a good activity this week while trapped inside, this looks pretty fun.

Ina Fried