Mar 10, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you" … Sorry, I was just washing my hands before I hit send.

Today's Login is 1,449 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Not all tech employees can work from home

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The remote work plan many companies are launching in response to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus doesn't work for everyone — even in the tech industry, and even for people whose jobs involve sitting in front of a screen all day.

Why it matters: While remote work can be an important tool for helping slow the spread of the disease, it's not a panacea.

Driving the news:

  • Companies including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, IBM, Salesforce and more have been encouraging those workers who can do so to work from home.
  • The telecommuting efforts initially focused on the Seattle area, then expanded to the San Francisco Bay Area and are now expanding from there. IBM, for example, said Monday that workers in New York City and Westchester should work from home until further notice if their job permits.

Yes, but: The key phrase in those work-from-home edicts was "those who can do so."

There are many tech jobs that don't lend themselves to remote work, beyond those you'd expect:

  • Content moderators. Companies have been moving toward limiting this work to company facilities for privacy protection because workers are often looking at private customer data.
  • App Store reviewers: At companies like Apple, Amazon and Google, humans are looking at unreleased code from third parties, and the companies don't want that data to leave their premises.
  • Those doing specialized and/or highly proprietary work: At Intel, it's not just the workers in its factories that can't telecommute. Chip architects — along with the engineers in the shop that makes the masks used to print chips — use specialized systems that can't be operated remotely.

Some of the limits on these roles could change with added software and security features designed to protect customer data — but those would require care and time to implement.

The big picture: Those tech jobs are in addition to the more obvious examples of jobs that don't easily move to remote work:

  • Security workers, both those who patrol the perimeters of tech campuses and those who secure the people, machines and secrets inside the buildings.
  • Data center operators, some of whom are still required on the premises to keep the centers humming, even though at least some of this work has already switched to remote.
  • Delivery workers responsible for delivering the goods sold via tech marketplaces — many of whom are gig workers.
  • Support staff who drive the shuttles, clean the offices and cook the food enjoyed by tech workers. Many tech giants are ensuring these hourly workers continue to be paid even as people work from home.

The other side: Telecommute policies could help even those who do have to show up at the office.

  • Companies are hoping that fewer employees in the office also makes things safer for those who do have to come in.

The bottom line: Shifting to a new way of working so quickly will take some adjustment — both at the individual level, for telecommuting newbies and for the tech companies themselves.

2. Bill Gates warned TED about the next epidemic — in 2015

Five years ago, Bill Gates gave a talk about how unprepared society was for a global health epidemic. Today, that advice seems prescient as the world grapples with COVID-19 — and as TED itself has announced that it's delaying its annual conference until July.

Why it matters: While the specifics of this coronavirus are indeed novel, the notion of a global pandemic shouldn't have surprised government and business leaders.

History lesson:

  • At TED 2015, Gates spoke about the dangers of the next epidemic and said, "Time is not on our side."
  • The Gates Foundation also set up a mock Ebola clinic to show how intense an environment the front lines of a disease outbreak can be.
“Right now the world isn’t ready to fight a highly infectious disease. In fact, of all the things that could kill more than 10 million people around the world in the years ahead, by far the most likely is an epidemic, from either natural causes or bioterrorism.”
— Gates, in a letter to those visiting the mock Ebola clinic at TED

Fast forward: Gates is also playing a role in the current outbreak, both by speaking out and by providing money to combat the coronavirus and mitigate its societal impact.

  • The Gates Foundation announced Tuesday that it’s teaming with MasterCard and health research firm Wellcome to spend up to $125 million together to fund coronavirus treatment R&D.
  • The foundation had already announced plans to invest $100 million to "improve detection, isolation and treatment efforts; protect at-risk populations in Africa and South Asia; and accelerate the development of vaccines, drugs and diagnostics."
  • A Gates-funded test will soon allow people in the Seattle area to swab themselves at h0me and find out within one to two days if they have the coronavirus.
  • The Foundation is providing a further $5 million to help fund COVID-19 response in hard-hit greater Seattle, home to both Gates and his foundation.
  • Gates penned an op-ed in the New England Journal of Medicine, highlighting the need to appropriately respond to COVID-19 and ensure we are better prepared next time around.

Go deeper: Watch Gates' 2015 TED talk

3. Senators call for antitrust review of Google search

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

A bipartisan pair of senators, in a letter Tuesday, are urging the Justice Department to investigate Google's search operations as well as its advertising business, Margaret Harding McGill reports.

The big picture: The letter from Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) comes as the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee holds a Tuesday hearing on ways that digital platforms favor themselves over their competitors.

Details: Hawley and Blumenthal, both members of the Judiciary Committee and former state attorneys general, cite recent reports indicating the Justice Department is focusing its antitrust investigation into Google on the company's advertising business.

  • But the senators tell Attorney General William Barr that Google's search operations merit scrutiny as well. "Narrowing the investigation’s focus such that Google’s anticompetitive practices to dominate the online search market is not captured does a grave disservice to consumers," they wrote.

What's next: Luther Lowe, Yelp's senior vice president of public policy, will testify at the hearing that Google has biased its search results to favor its own products to the detriment of Yelp and consumers.

  • In written testimony, Lowe also notes "concerning reports" that the DOJ is focusing narrowly on Google's ad business. "You can't look at Standard Oil without looking at oil; you cannot investigate Google without looking at search," Lowe wrote.
  • In response to Yelp's testimony, a Google spokesperson said in a statement, "We build Google Search for our users. Our users tell us they want quick access to information, and we're constantly innovating Search to help people easily find what they’re looking for."
4. Exclusive: Inside Quibi's advertising strategy

Quibi, the mobile video streaming service set to launch next month, has capped its ad partnerships for its first year at 10 companies, according to executives, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: Quibi has sold out its first year in ads — $150 million in revenue — ahead of its April 6 launch. That number is fixed via pre-sold ad agreements with those 10 companies.

Details: The 10 exclusive partners are Progressive, Discover, General Mills, Procter & Gamble, AB InBev, Taco Bell, Pepsi, T-Mobile, Google and Walmart.

How it works: Companies can run a pre-roll ad that can be either 6, 10 or 15 seconds long before an episode of any show. The ad load means that each brand will exclusively sponsor each episode of a show. The platform won't have any mid-roll ads or ad pods.

  • Longer ads are recommended for longer Quibi shows that are in the 5–7 minute range. Shorter ads are recommended for shorter shows in the 1–5 minute range.
  • In total, Quibi will run 2.5 minutes of advertising for every hour of programming — closer to the ad frequency on social media than traditional TV.

Quibi hasn't accepted any political ads as part of its first year of ad sales, according to a source familiar with its plans.

Be smart: Quibi CEO Meg Whitman told Axios in an interview in January that she expects the majority of subscribers to Quibi's service to choose the ad-supported tier, which puts more pressure on the company to get the ad experience right.

5. Take note

On tap

  • The Securities and Exchange Commission staff in Washington, D.C., will become the latest entity — and first significant chunk of the federal government — to shift to working from home, after a worker tested positive for COVID-19.

Trading places

  • Former New York Times CTO Nick Rockwell has started a new gig as VP of engineering at Fastly.
  • Facebook added two female directors to its board, which is now close to gender parity: Nancy Killefer, a former government official and longtime McKinsey executive, and Tracey T. Travis, the chief financial executive of The Estee Lauder Companies.
  • Former Nintendo of America head Reggie Fils-Aimé has joined the board of troubled retailer GameStop.

ICYMI

  • SXSW, which last week canceled its 2020 event, is laying off more than 50 people, or about a third of its year-round staff. (WSJ)
  • Facebook is testing the ability to cross-post Stories to Instagram. (TechCrunch)
  • Infineon's deal to buy Cypress Semiconductor won approval from the US committee that reviews foreign deals for national security issues. (Bloomberg)
  • Jack Dorsey will remain as Twitter CEO after striking a deal with investment firms Elliott Management and Silver Lake. (Axios)
  • TikTok parent ByteDance is readying a Google-style suite of productivity apps as remote work spikes in China over coronavirus concerns. (Bloomberg)
6. After you Login

Sure, what the kids are doing on TikTok is impressive. But, arguably, even more so is what the olds are doing.

Ina Fried