Apr 2, 2020

Axios Login

Don't forget Friday's live virtual Axios event focused on how the private sector can contribute to social good in the midst of a global pandemic. Join us at 12:30pm ET live for a discussion that will include tech entrepreneur Mark Cuban, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and Edelman Global CEO Richard Edelman.

Situational awareness: SoftBank overnight backed out of its offer to buy $3 billion in WeWork shares, a move that hits the embattled co-working company (and its former CEO Adam Neumann, who would have made out big in the deal) as it’s already reeling from the impact of coronavirus.

Today's Login is 1,436 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Crisis Text Line fills new role in pandemic

Illustration: Axios Visuals; Photos: Steven Ferdman/Getty Contributor and picture alliance/Getty Contributor

For years, Crisis Text Line has served as a 21st-century version of the call-in hotline, helping a largely young clientele manage life's challenges via text message. With the coronavirus outbreak, the line is now serving a new role as well — offering aid to a broader audience struggling to deal with a rapidly changed reality.

Why it matters: In addition to the direct health threat posed by COVID-19, the pandemic and restrictions aimed at stemming it have led to all manner of anxieties, from health fears to money worries to social concerns.

What they're saying: In an interview for "Axios on HBO," Crisis Text Line CEO Nancy Lublin noted that the coronavirus has brought in queries from a wider range of age groups.

"Normally, 53% of our texters are under the age of 17," Lublin said. "We're seeing that decrease." The service is now seeing more texters over age 25.

  • Anxiety is the main concern, cited by more than three-quarters of texters. Normally, relationships and depression are the top issues.
  • "Symptom," "fever" and "cough" are now in the top 10 words nationally used by texters.
  • "Quarantine," "lockdown" and "stuck" are also trending.

The big picture: While much attention has rightly been paid to the threat from the coronavirus itself, Lublin points to the many other pressing issues created by the pandemic — including lost jobs, social isolation and other impacts from people being forced to stay at home for long periods of time.

"I am concerned about what fear does," Lublin said. "I'm concerned that quarantines may lead to an increase in child abuse and domestic violence as people are quarantined with abusers and as stress runs high."

Details: Some groups may be hit especially hard, she said — including LGBTQ youth whose primary support came from peers at school, and undocumented immigrants.

"A lot of low-income immigrants are wage laborers. I'm worried that they don't have sick days, they don't have health care, and they may be pressured to work right now. And that they may not feel safe going to a hospital or seeking out health care because they would be worried about a forced deportation."
— Nancy Lublin

You can watch the video interview here.

Crisis Text Line can be reached 24 hours a day by texting HOME to 741741 and via Facebook Messenger from the organization's website.

Go deeper: Increase in domestic violence feared during virus lockdown

2. Zoom's tarnished moment of glory

This is clearly Zoom's moment in the spotlight, as the public has embraced the videoconferencing provider's service during the coronavirus lockdown. However, security woes, privacy controversies, and trolling incidents have marred the company's star turn, Axios' Scott Rosenberg writes.

The big picture: When Zoom usage soared as Americans started working and studying from home, some worried whether it could handle the load. It did, but other problems cropped up as millions of consumers started using what had been an unsung piece of business software.

What's new: Zoom CEO Eric Yuan announced in a blog post Wednesday night that the company is freezing work on new features "and shifting all our engineering resources to focus on our biggest trust, safety, and privacy issues."

  • "Over the next 90 days, we are committed to dedicating the resources needed to better identify, address, and fix issues proactively," he wrote. "We want to do what it takes to maintain your trust."
  • Zoom will also invite outside experts and users to consult on a security review, Yuan said, among other near-term plans around security and transparency.

Context: Over the past week, researchers have reported a variety of security flaws in Zoom.

Previously, Zoom came under fire for the way its iOS app shared data with Facebook.

Meanwhile, users of Zoom holding classes and public meetings have found themselves targeted by "zoombombing" hecklers, who are interrupting conferences to introduce hate speech or porn.

Flashback: Last summer, Zoom incurred Apple's wrath because of the way its app installed a secret web server on Macs to save its users a click in the launch process.

Our thought bubble: The same design choices and default settings that made Zoom so easy to install and use are the ones that make it vulnerable. The level of trust that users within a large company assume as they work together breaks down among more heterogeneous groups in public environments.

The bottom line: Zoom's stock has soared recently thanks to its surge in usage, but that ride could turn bumpy.

3. Stanford experts want national AI resource

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Artificial intelligence experts at Stanford University are calling for the creation of a task force to establish a National Research Cloud to aid American AI research, Axios' Brian Walsh reports.

Why it matters: Government support for basic science helped create the post-war American technological colossus. But the unique resource needs of advanced AI research demand a new approach to ensure the field isn't dominated by a few large, rich companies.

The research used to train advanced AI requires a great deal of two things: computational power and data.

  • Google needed nearly $1.5 million in computational cycles to train its Meena chatbot announced earlier this year, while Facebook is able to tap its enormous user-generated dataset for its own AI research. It's impossible for most academic AI researchers to access anywhere near that much computational power or raw data.
  • To open up AI research to a wider group of players, experts at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence want to create a public-private task force that will build what they call a National Research Cloud.

How it works: The National Research Cloud would seek to even the playing field by providing academic researchers affordable access to high-powered computational resources as well as access to datasets held in government agencies like Medicare and the VA.

  • "If you're at a college in a state like Kansas, there's no way for you to do this research now," says John Etchemendy, the co-director of the Stanford center. "But if we have a real national push to provide that compute and data, in a privacy protective way, it would benefit society at large."

The bottom line: The only way to ensure the boons of AI research are spread widely is to eliminate the barriers to doing that work.

4. Google pledges $6M+ to fact checkers

Google is providing more than $6.5 million in funding to fact checkers and nonprofits fighting misinformation around the world, with an immediate focus on the coronavirus, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: Google wants to be proactive throughout the coronavirus crisis to support the spread of accurate and safe information.

The big picture: Google, like many of its Big Tech rivals, has been criticized for not doing enough in the past to elevate quality information during breaking news events and crises.

  • As a result, many of those companies, especially Google, are throwing millions of dollars at journalism and small business initiatives amid the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Facebook, for example, recently announced a $1 million investment to support fact-checkers that can help promote quality information about the global pandemic.

Details: The donations will come via the Google News Initiative (GNI), a $300 million effort established in 2018 to help journalism thrive in the digital age, and will support fact-checking all over the world.

  • Globally, Google will use the funds to increase support for First Draft, a nonprofit that is providing an online resource hub, dedicated training and crisis simulations for reporters covering COVID-19. It's also renewing its core backing of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN).
  • In the U.S., Google will support PolitiFact and Kaiser Health News will expand its health fact-checking partnership to focus on coronavirus misinformation.
  • It's also funding projects in South America, Europe, India and Africa.

What's next: Google says that in the coming weeks, it will launch a dedicated fact-check section in the COVID-19 News page for India and the U.S., with more countries to come.

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar was named CEO of AT&T's WarnerMedia unit, which includes HBO.
  • Longtime enterprise tech analyst Brian Solis has taken a job with Salesforce as "global innovation evangelist."


  • Apple is letting some premium video apps, notably Amazon Prime, provide their own in-app payment options, bypassing Apple's typical 30% cut. (Bloomberg)
  • The Federal Trade Commission sued to unwind tobacco giant Altria's $12.8 billion investment in Juul. (FTC)
  • Microsoft has started warning hospitals directly if their VPN appliances could be leaving them open to ransomware attacks. (ZDnet)
  • The FCC has proposed devoting the entire 6 GHz swath of spectrum to unlicensed uses, such as WiFi, with a vote scheduled for April 23. Apple and others praised the move. (CNET)
  • Anthony Levandowski wants to force Uber to pick up part or all of the $179 million due to Alphabet's Waymo as part of a lawsuit. (TechCrunch)
  • YouTube reportedly plans to launch a TikTok rival dubbed “Shorts” by the end of the year. (The Information)
6. After you Login

Give this dad a medal. When his daughter's Disney trip was canceled, he improvised a way for her to still get to ride Splash Mountain using YouTube and a laundry basket.