• Business
    Bloomberg

    Will Facebook and Amazon Need Quarantining After Covid-19?

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- There are no atheists in foxholes, and no tech regulators in a coronavirus lockdown.What was once thunderously described as “surveillance capitalism” is now a pandemic necessity. Twitch is where our children go to school; Twitter where epidemiological models are debated; and WhatsApp where we have drinks with friends. Some 40% of the world’s population is living under lockdown, according to AFP, creating exactly the kind of bored and isolated citizens whose fingers linger over their Facebook app button, as my colleague Alex Webb notes. Our personal information is hoovered up as before, but data privacy is now gone from our hierarchy of needs.Likewise, the market power that made Big Tech look so dangerous makes it look vital and dependable now. Amazon.com Inc., which has always wanted to be the Everything Store, is now the Only Store in cities like Paris or San Francisco, where it’s an essential lifeline for a myriad of household goods (with some restrictions) that can’t always be found in the grocery stores or drugstores that are still operating. The iniquities of the gig economy are still as outrageous as ever — as complaints by Amazon’s workers show — but there’s no mistaking the message sent by the company’s pledge to hire 100,000 more people: A firm once under fire for killing the economy now is the economy.Where does that leave the “techlash,” the drumbeat of outrage against data-extracting, competition-killing platforms banged on by consumers, small firms and government regulators? At first glance, as Wired magazine recently surmised, it’s dead — or at least in hibernation — as the focus shifts from constraining Big Tech to supporting it to ensure it can reach all of us in this time of need.In fact, we may already be seeing the contours of a new, post-virus grand bargain between Big Tech and Big State.It says something that the most high-profile move from the European Union in recent weeks has been to ask the bosses of Netflix Inc., and Alphabet Inc.’s Google and YouTube to throttle streaming quality to reduce Internet congestion. The EU’s technocrats in Brussels, the land of sweeping data-privacy laws, are now eying the use of smartphone geolocation metadata — anonymized, of course — to monitor the outbreak. Digital rules designed to boost the EU’s technological sovereignty are being re-thought, the FT reports.What the current crisis has emphasized is how much of what the tech industry’s billionaire-run corporations provide resemble essential public, or quasi-public, goods and services. As the virus has shut schools, libraries and public parks in some cities, those spaces have moved online. Information, education, and health care in these times are overwhelmingly reliant on the Internet — and by extension dependent on the FAANG firms (and Microsoft Corp.), which as of last year accounted for more than 40% of all traffic. It’s hard to imagine the genie will be put back in the bottle. Even once countries lift lockdowns, Big Tech will retain its power.Which is why, when we emerge from self-isolation to rebuild the post-Covid-19 society, we can’t just return to the earlier status quo. The virus has already prompted governments across the world to re-think where the fire hose of financial stimulus should be aimed in an emergency, with trillions in aid going to support workers, hospitals and the unemployed, not just big business. A similar re-think is due for tech platforms. If they’re going to provide essential public goods, they need to be held to a higher standard.If social media firms are our sidewalks and parks, they should be kept clean — virtually speaking — of misinformation and bad actors. If e-commerce platforms are delivering vital medical equipment for the authorities, they shouldn’t traffic in fakes or quack cures. If online marketplaces are infrastructure for small firms and gig workers, they must be run fairly. And if collecting and processing our personal data helps the greater good of healthcare, more benefits should accrue to the public by ensuring that what’s being collected, and how it’s handled, isn’t harmful. Oceans of data generated by what Stephen Roberts of the London School of Economics calls the “digital turn” of health surveillance will require new rules and explicit terms of engagement to limit abuse.The message is starting to get through to the companies themselves, which have tended to drag their feet in the past. Facebook Inc. is taking down harmful misinformation related to the new coronavirus and redirecting users to public health authorities. Amazon has banned more than one million products that falsely promised to cure the coronavirus. Google is banning promotional ads for medical masks so they aren’t hoarded by panic-buyers. A new Covid-19 data partnership between Britain’s National Health Service and tech firms, including Google and Palantir Technologies Inc., has explicitly promised to abide by EU data-privacy principles and destroy its data store after the pandemic. It will take regulatory pressure to make sure this isn’t all just for show.In return for responding more proactively to the prodding of watchdogs, Big Tech will probably find itself in less political hot water in the future, and justifiably so. The current pandemic has focused our minds on the common good and decreased polarization in several countries — in the U.S., for example, Republicans’ and Democrats’ views toward coronavirus concerns  are gradually converging. If online platforms that have historically tended toward some toxic behaviors can themselves undergo a similar refresh, it will be one step in the right direction.If there is the risk of another techlash appearing on the horizon, however, it’s that we don’t know what the long-term effects will be of Big Tech making peace with Big Brother — namely, a state that has also expanded its emergency powers, surveillance capabilities and size during the crisis. The mix could prove toxic in the long run, even if for now, it’s helping the common good. We’ll have to keep our eyes open.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Lionel Laurent is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Brussels. He previously worked at Reuters and Forbes.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Health
    The Guardian

    Have I already had coronavirus? How would I know and what should I do?

    Covid-19 symptoms, when they occur, vary widely and undertesting means many people have probably been unwittingly infected * Coronavirus – latest updates * See all our coronavirus coverageCovid-19 symptoms vary widely, and undertesting in many countries means that many people may have already had the coronavirus without having received a positive diagnosis. Is it possible to find out, and how should you behave if you think you may have been infected? Is there any way to know whether someone has had Covid-19 in the past?Dr William Hillmann: At this point, we don’t have a test to tell that. We are developing antibody tests to check for a prior infection, but those aren’t ready for clinical use yet. The only definitive way to know that you’ve had it is to get tested while you have it and to have that test be positive. Could I have had it and been asymptomatic? Hillmann: Coronavirus is actually quite a significant spectrum of symptoms, from people who are entirely asymptomatic and would have no idea that they have it to people with very mild, cold-like symptoms – runny nose, congestion, sore throat – to people with more flu-like symptoms – high fevers, muscle aches, shortness of breath and cough. All the way up to people with severe illness, who we’re seeing in the hospital with respiratory failure, requiring ICU care. (Editor’s note: recent reports suggest that loss of smell and taste are also signs of Covid-19 infection.) What percentage of carriers are asymptomatic?Dr David Buchholz: Right now in New York, we’re only testing the sickest possible people. So we have no idea. However, there was a study in Iceland, which tested [a large segment of its] population, and 50% of the people who tested positive had no symptoms. Are people who are asymptomatic also contagious? Hillmann: A significant proportion of people who are totally asymptomatic are contagious for some portion of time. We just don’t know [for how long] at this point, because we don’t have the kind of testing available to screen for asymptomatic infections.When people are symptomatic, they’re contagious. A day or two before they become symptomatic, they’re likely contagious as well. A virus builds up and starts to shed, and then after symptoms resolve, people can still be contagious for a couple of days. We have some evidence of viral shed even a couple of weeks after symptoms are resolved. It’s hard to know if that’s actual live virus, which is still able to infect somebody, or if that’s just dead virus that the body is shedding. Should someone behave differently if they think, but don’t know for certain, that they have already had it?Buchholz: We all have to be role models. If we’re all in it together, we all should be doing social distancing.Hillmann: Since there’s no real way to know at this point who might have had it, unless you’re symptomatic, you get a swab and are definitively diagnosed with it, I would just act as if you hadn’t had it. Keep doing all of those things that we all should be doing at this point: social distancing and hand hygiene. If I think I may have had it, do I have an ethical obligation to tell people I came in contact with? Even if it may in fact just have been a cold?Buchholz: I would, absolutely. I’m in New York, and it was definitely in the community before we knew it. So, yeah, any family members and close friends, maybe somebody you work next to, I think I would just alert them, especially if it was in the last 14 days. If it’s been more than 14 days, they would have gotten sick by now if they had significant exposure.Hillmann: It’s up to every individual about what they feel is right. If somebody is diagnosed with a case of coronavirus, I might feel a little bit more strongly that they should tell people because if you’re in close contact with a healthcare worker, it could have implications for precautions that healthcare worker needs to take. If I’ve had it, can I get it again?Buchholz: There’s not been any evidence that anyone’s gotten it more than once. Someone with a normal immune system that can react to the virus and get better should have immunity for quite some time, at least a year, if not lifelong.There have been reports out of China suggesting people are testing positive for Covid-19 a second time. Most scientists think it is an issue around the inaccuracy of the testing and not that people are having two separate cases of the disease.ExpertsDr David Buchholz, senior founding medical director, primary care, assistant professor of pediatrics, Columbia University Irving medical centerDr William Hillmann, associate inpatient physician director at Massachusetts general hospital

  • Style
    In The Know

    Meet the woman who lives every day like it’s 1958 — from her clothes to her appliances

    Laci Fay loves the 1950s — ever since her grandparents described it to her when she was younger — and pledged to live every day like it's 1958.

  • Business
    American City Business Journals

    Home Depot makes more changes at stores due to COVID-19

    Limiting the number of customers allowed into stores at one time Promoting social and physical distancing practices in stores by marking floors and adding signage to help customers and associates maintain safe distances Eliminating major spring promotions to avoid driving high levels of traffic to stores