Apr 20, 2020

Axios Login

This article on parenting during a pandemic hit home. I'd tell you more but I'm hoarse from arguing with a 7-year-old all weekend.

Today's Login is 1,498 words, a 6-minute read.

1 big thing: Why we're still not voting online

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nearly every aspect of daily life has moved online as a result of the coronavirus pandemic but voting via the internet is still largely a non-starter, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

The big picture: Officials grappling with making elections compatible with social distancing are focusing on tried-and-true methods like mail-in ballots rather than online voting platforms, which have a limited track record and raise major election security concerns.

Details: Before the pandemic, states including Utah, Washington and Oregon had been experimenting with online voting on a limited basis.

  • West Virginia let overseas residents and troops vote via mobile devices in the 2018 federal election, and is expanding that option to people with physical disabilities for its June primary.
  • However, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner told Axios he doesn't envision the pandemic moving the state to expand mobile voting further. Instead, West Virginia has mailed absentee ballot applications for the primary to all registered voters.

Between the lines: The technology just isn't there yet to build a wide-scale online voting system that supports both a secret ballot and auditable elections, said Dan Guido, co-founder and CEO of cybersecurity firm Trail of Bits.

  • Guido's team uncovered problems with Voatz, a mobile voting platform that's been used in West Virginia and other states. (West Virginia plans to use a different provider — Democracy Live — for June's primary, and Voatz says it's working to fix the issues that Trail of Bits found.)
  • More broadly, Guido said online voting is still in its "infancy."
  • "It's not something where we're going to hackathon our way to a solution," he told Axios. "The kinds of technical advances required are something that require smart people to make progress over inches over time."

What they're saying: Voatz and Democracy Live agree that it's not yet time for online voting at scale. But, as the pandemic drags on, they're drawing more interest from states in trialing their tech on a targeted basis.

  • "We disagree if somebody is saying that we are not ready for pilots and we're not ready for maybe one state," said Voatz chief of staff Hilary Braseth. "We think that this is the time to do that. And especially in the landscape of a pandemic, it would be a disservice to our critical infrastructure to not be testing."
  • Tusk Philanthropies, which funds mobile voting pilot programs, expects at least three jurisdictions to announce they're expanding online voting for some voters this month, president Sheila Nix said.
  • Nix noted that people already use their phones for banking, boarding planes and other high-security transactions.

Yes, but: States are already facing budget crunches and can't spend big on cybersecurity, as banks do — all while still accepting a risk of fraud that states likewise can't afford.

  • "It is OK for 1% of all [the banks'] transactions to be mistakes. It is not OK for 1% of all your votes to be mistakes," Guido said.

Where it stands: Federal lawmakers concerned about the coronavirus are looking to conventional alternatives to crowding the polling places on Election Day.

  • Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Ron Wyden last month led legislation to expand early in-person voting and allow for no-excuse vote-by-mail nationwide in response to the pandemic. The bill, however, has no GOP backers.
  • "I'm not aware of any online voting system that has been proven secure and reliable by independent cybersecurity experts," Wyden said in a statement. "It's not worth risking our democracy on unproven, insecure technology."
  • Nevertheless, West Virginia's Warner said he'd like to see Congress dedicate funding to developing online voting — first for military voters, and then possibly for greater use.
2. New social app wins quarantine buzz

The annual South by Southwest festival has long been the launchpad of choice for new social apps looking for attention — but even with the festival's cancellation this year during the pandemic, app makers are finding ways to garner buzz, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

Driving the news: Over the last few days, Silicon Valley insiders have been obsessing over a new app called Clubhouse, which lets users join group audio chat rooms.

  • Created by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, the app is still only available via invite, and like many others that take this approach to solicit early feedback before being widely released, it's also benefiting from the buzz generated by the exclusivity.

Yes, but: Just like the many apps that saw fast success among SXSW attendees and subsequently faded into obscurity, the same can easily happen now. Only Twitter and Foursquare have truly endured in the years after hot SXSW debuts.

  • This may be a great time to bring consumers new social networking products, since so many people have to much time on their hands, says David Thacker, a new consumer-focused partner at venture firm Greylock — but it's tricky to distinguish fleeting fads from longer-term successes.

Notably, Davison was behind Highlight, an app that became the breakout hit of SXSW in 2012. (Remember Highlight? Didn't think so.)

The bottom line: Don't be surprised if more social apps take advantage of the collective need for new entertainment and digital socializing to become hits — but lasting beyond that will be the real challenge.

3. Rivals hit Huawei despite coronavirus

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The anti-Huawei movement continues even as attention shifts to the coronavirus, with a group of tech firms urging the U.K. to find alternatives to using Huawei gear in 5G networks.

The big picture: The approach they propose has also been pursued by some in the White House, though many have cast doubt on its viability, especially in the short term.

Driving the news: The letter, addressed to House of Commons Defense Committee chair Tobias Ellwood, calls on Britain to scrap its current plan, which would allow "high-risk" vendors like Huawei to build up to 35% of its 5G network, as long as they don't supply gear for the network core.

"In short, the U.K. now has the opportunity to put in place the most technologically advanced 5G infrastructure without needing to rely at all on 'high-risk vendors.'"
— Letter seen by Axios

The letter is signed by nine less well-known tech companies who have been pursuing whats known as "ORAN," an alternative to traditional radio access network gear using standard servers and open source software.

The best-known company is Japan's NEC, along with Airspan, Mavenir, Parallel Wireless, Microelectronics Technology, Super Micro Computer, Altiostar, GigaTera Communications and World Wide Technology.

Yes, but: Such an approach is likely to take time and not be a ready alternative to traditional telecom systems for the first wave of 5G networks. U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr blasted it as "pie in the sky."

4. VC vets talk life after coronavirus

Bond Capital, a Silicon Valley VC firm whose portfolio companies include Slack and Uber, told its investors on Friday via email that the coronavirus' high-speed spread and impact has similarities to the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

Why it matters: Bond's best-known partner, Mary Meeker, is a former bank analyst renowned for her annual Internet Trends Report, which many investors and entrepreneurs use as a touchstone for where tech is now and where it's going. Her 28-page report to Bond's limited partners, obtained by Axios, shares some structural similarities, Axios' Dan Primack reports.

Some takeaways:

  • Prior epic outbreaks have permanently changed the world, but coronavirus may prove less impactful because of our information-sharing and scientific technologies.
  • Scientists and other domain experts are getting "more seats at the table."
  • Digital transformation is accelerating, due to so many people working from home. New work-life balances are also being struck.
  • This may become the "call to arms" to better marry technology with healthcare, in terms of everything from telehealth to rapid point-of-care diagnostics, to applying automation and AI to health care services.
  • "We are optimists and believe there is hope on the other side of despair .... We need government, business and entrepreneurial intervention at scale (deployed logically and effectively) to get to the other side."

Meanwhile: Other venture capitalists are also weighing in.

  • Netscape and Andreessen Horowitz co-founder Marc Andreesen published an essay titled "It's time to build," arguing that smugness and "complacency" have eroded the will to create new institutions in the U.S. not only for public health but for education, manufacturing and transportation, among other areas.
  • Benedict Evans, a former Andreessen Horowitz employee, offered up his own analysis, noting how the coronavirus crisis will likely accelerate the shifting online of people and institutions that had remained largely in-person. When this is over, some activities may return to in-person — but, Evans posits, only if there is a compelling reason to do so.
5. Take Note

On Tap

  • IBM is slated to report earning after the market closes.
  • I think something else happens on 4/20, I can't remember. But I am suddenly hungry.

Trading Places

  • Jim Miller, interim chief technology officer for e-commerce company Wayfair since August of last year, has been named to that position on a permanent basis.


  • Officials in Australia want to see Google and Facebook regulated in a way that would force them to pay news outlets for content. (Australian ABC)
  • Amazon is extending its warehouse closures in France amid a dispute with unions there. (Reuters)
  • Instagram's co-founders have launched a site for tracking the state-by-state spread of COVID-19. (TechCrunch)
  • Facebook is introducing a new dedicated gaming app as demand for video games surges amid the pandemic. (New York Times)
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is urging the use of voluntary symptoms surveys to help health authorities track the spread of the coronavirus. (Washington Post)
  • Pro-gun activist brothers are coordinating some of the largest Facebook groups urging protests against state quarantine orders. (Washington Post)
6. After you Login

You know what's even better than nuns playing basketball to burn off steam? Nuns playing basketball in a crisis, with play-by-play by (a parody of) NBA announcers.