n the era of COVID-19 developers are banding together to find job resources and privacy concerns abound. The Developers Alliance 2020 April US Policy Update.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States have surpassed the 1 million mark, indicating that the virus isn’t something we can get rid of with a few weeks of social distancing. Conversations and policies in every area from public health to privacy will be changed. The crisis will adjust the outlook of an entire generation. Some even opine on if we will ever ‘go back to the office’ given the sheer impact of what a once simple question means. How has the world changed for developers?
From utilizing existing 3D printers to make ventilator parts, to using Etsy to buy and sell facemasks, people in tech are getting creative. We have seen developers be engaged in everything from assisting in contract tracing to providing resources for individuals or small businesses in need.
Have An iPad To Spare?
Even in the midst of a crisis, the tech community is still finding ways to bring people together. Corona-related restrictions have forbidden visits to loved ones at most hospitals. A group of these teens, appropriately named “iPads To Hospitals,” are hoping to ease that burden by providing iPads to patients. The iPads will be used to connect patients with their families in real-time, whether to provide comforting updates by video, or by giving them the opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones. As of April 25th, over 700 iPads have been donated. You can donate your iPads here.
Would A Llama Improve Your Meetings?
Farm to Zoom? Technology is even bringing the farm to you. Sweet Farm, a Silicon Valley animal sanctuary, will deliver a Llama or other barnyard animal straight to your telemeetings. It’s only $100 for a corporate call, of 10 minutes with unlimited participants. $65 for a personal call with 20 participants. It’s not just llamas however, you can choose from a cow, goat, llama, pig, sheep, or turkey. Sweet Farm calls the initiative “Goat To Meeting.” (Any pointers for convincing your boss this is a good use of company funds are welcome.)
Have a COVID-related tech project you’d like to tell us about? Email us!
How Productive Have You Been, Really?
If working from home with your screaming kids and barking pets wasn’t stressful enough, tech companies have been coming up with solutions for how to ensure “productivity” with a workforce that isn’t used to being remote. States have been looking for a solution to track contractors as they work remotely, given that the virus makes it difficult to keep tabs on workers in a time when the boss can’t micromanage over your shoulder.
One Of The Most Desired 2020 Developer Skills? COBOL
As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, the US Government has been hustling to pass out stimulus checks to those who qualify. If you have previously filed your taxes with a direct deposit, more than likely you have already received your payout. If not, you’re stuck waiting for the antiquated (over 60-year-old) computer systems that make up the Internal Revenue Service to figure out the best way to go about payments. While the entire country’s job market has taken a hit, apparently the COBOL programmers (see above) who run such equipment are still in high demand due to the government still coding in the stone age. In all seriousness, however, while this may feel like the twilight zone, if you know COBOL and can offer assistance, we highly encourage you to jump in here. TechRepublic has provided a great refresher on the subject here.
STEM Talent Pipeline Takes A Hit
A number of tech-related educational groups recently penned an open letter to employers expressing concern over the effects COVID-19 will have on their efforts to “build and diversify the talent pipeline in tech, engineering, and all STEM fields.” The groups go on to state that they “are deeply concerned about the impact the COVID-19 crisis will have on the emerging science and technology talent pool and the future of US innovation” due to prolonged school closings, internship cancellations, and rescinded research opportunities. Missing a summer internship at a critical point in your career may mean you don’t have the skills, experience, or access for the next big app. The group does not mince their words when they make it known that canceling these programs and opportunities in light of the crisis will cause “irreversible, long-lasting impact on the science and technology talent pool, causing a loss of diversity and a deficit in talent availability that could affect the science and technology sector for years to come.” Simply put, if you want better employees and job candidates in years to come you need to invest in making remote internships work NOW.
Banks And Kim Ask STEM Corps To Report For Duty
On April 17th, Reps. Jim Banks (R-IN) and Andy Kim (D-NJ) introduced a bill “to establish a STEM corps to enhance the STEM and computer science workforce of the Department of Defense and the defense industry, and for other purposes.” The bipartisan bill seeks to ensure a strong talent pipeline in the STEM fields by offering participants significant tuition assistance in exchange for starting their career out with four years at the Department of Defense. The program would also allow the opportunity for participants to work with industry partners during their tenure, a major perk for those hoping to eventually make their way to the private sector.
Developer’s Projects Building Job Resources For All
Schools have closed, internships have been canceled, offers rescinded, and new junior staffers may even be the first on the chopping block for deeper cuts. Nearly every sector is having employment woes, what does this mean for the developer talent market long term?
A crowdsourced project by enterprising developers has created a master listing, updated in real-time, with what companies are hiring, how, and in what ways. More is available about the project on its original GitHub listing here or on its website.
As you can see by this tracker, some businesses and startups are hiring at their normal rates or more, depending on the nature of their business or their employee’s ability to work remotely. Others are continuing to hire as they are pivoting to this new “business-as-usual.”
If you are looking for internships however, COVINTERN, has a comprehensive list of available software engineering positions. The project was created by an Indiana University student to assist fellow students in finding work and internships during the COVID-19 crisis.
Paycheck Protection Program And Other Resources
The Small Business Committee has been working hard in recent weeks to handle the business implications of the COVID-19 fallout. They have tasked the Small Business Administration, generally responsible for handling around $25 billion in loans a year, with getting $310 billion in COVID-related loans out the door in a matter of days as part of the Paycheck Protection Program. See our post for more information on the program, help for common roadblocks, and other resources for your small developer-run business.
Lest We Forget That It Is An Election Year…
Former Vice President Joe Biden has received the presumptive nomination now that he is the last person standing on the democratic ballot. Meanwhile, his team, with a new endorsement from once-opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT-I), debates whether the Democratic convention should be held virtually. Regardless of who wins, it’s entirely possible that the upcoming election will have more accurate polling statistics.
Biden Outlines COVID-19 Response
Pandemics, Price Gouging, And Productivity (Oh My!)
Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Kamala Harris (D-CA), introduced a bill on April 10th that would prohibit price gouging during national emergencies. This is, as expected, in light of the price gouging occurring during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The bill would consider any price increase above 10% to be price gouging during such a declaration and would leave room for states to enact further legislation if they deemed it necessary in their respective jurisdictions.
Amazon Cracks Down On Masks Inside And Out
The aforementioned legislation follows an announcement by Amazon that they will block the sale of N95 masks on their platform and prioritize offering the supplies to medical professionals and government agencies in dire need. Amazon has additionally announced plans to provide its workers with masks and temperature checks to contain any possible outbreaks at their warehouses given the need for the internet giant to continue providing the world with necessary goods at a time when few feel comfortable leaving their house to shop.
While Capitol Hill is physically empty these days, members and staff have stayed busy working to continue business as close-to-normal as possible. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation decided to forego in-person hearings in an effort to follow public health guidelines, and moved to host what they have dubbed a “paper hearing. Entitled “Enlisting Big Data in the Fight Against Coronavirus,” the hearing was held on April 9th to “examine recent uses of aggregate and anonymized consumer data to identify potential hotspots of coronavirus transmission and to help accelerate the development of treatments….(and) examine how consumers’ privacy rights are being protected and what the U.S. government plans to do with COVID-related data collected at the end of this national emergency.”
Consumers, Do You Feel Safe Online?
On April 21st, Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) introduced H.R.6570, the Online Consumer Protection Act of 2020. The bill requires “software marketplace operators and developers of covered foreign software to provide to consumers a warning prior to the download of such software.” The bill is specifically designed to target apps such as the Russia-based FaceApp and TikTok, owned by the Beijing-based ByteDance that has gained great popularity over the last year. Both apps have come under great scrutiny due to privacy and security concerns. The bill establishes civil and criminal penalties against companies that fail to display a security notice to consumers prior to downloading the app.
Google To Increase Advertising Transparency
Google has recently rolled out efforts to further increase advertising transparency on its platform. This includes bolstered ad settings information and identity verification of sellers. The change was made to “make it easier for people to understand who the advertiser is behind the ads they see from Google and help them make more informed decisions when using our advertising controls. It will also help support the health of the digital advertising ecosystem by detecting bad actors and limiting their attempts to misrepresent themselves.” Given the increased spending of SuperPACs and campaign groups during an election cycle, this change will alleviate some consumer concerns with being unable to identify who is advertising to them and why.
Many are saying that in order for the US economy to open back up in a COVID-19 world there needs to be a reliable form of contact tracing in an effort to get a hold over the virus and stop its spread. Apple and Google have lead the charge, announcing that the two tech super-powers are teaming up in an effort to allow for contact tracing using an individual’s mobile devices.
Markey And Blumenthal Want To Know How States Will Use Tech
Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-MA) wrote a letter to the White House urging them to provide guidelines for states using contact-tracing tech. The Senator requests that contact tracing apps be on an opt-in basis and narrow in scope in an effort to preserve the privacy of users. He also asks that contact tracing apps would provide “easily accessible, clear, and comprehensive information” about their data collection and processing methods. Markey’s home state of Massachusetts is one of the hardest hit by COVID-19. Markey, in tandem with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), additionally reached out to Google to directly express their privacy concerns with, and to gather more information on, consumer location data collected from users that will be utilized to combat COVID-19.
What’s Behind The Contact Tracing Tech?
While contact tracing can do much good in a public health crisis, the immense privacy and civil liberties concerns are not something all parties involved take lightly. As with everything COVID-related, how to best handle policy that is being executed as fast as it’s drafted, is an evolving situation. Our team will be breaking down the technical details and challenges this week, however, expect much more from our policy team in the coming weeks on this topic. If you have thoughts on the matter from the developer perspective, please reach out to our team.
Free Speech, Fake News, And Content Moderation
How will all of the newly implemented corporate content moderation policies designed to combat misinformation, disinformation, and hate speech affect the election and free speech as a whole?
Google and Facebook Content Moderation Efforts Feel Wind In Their Sails
In an effort to contain fake news, Google first moved to ban all non-governmental content regarding the virus. While this was presumably meant so that the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations were the first to pop up in your search engine, Democrats quickly became concerned with the implication that the Trump Administration would be the only one allowed to talk about the virus, to the detriment of their candidate. Google quickly backtracked on its policy statements to allow for political advertisers to release ads discussing the virus and virus response. This proves that with an evolving crisis comes evolving policies. It’s likely that these rapid fire changes may go on in real-time through this year’s election given the nature of the public health crisis.
Meanwhile, in an effort to promote transparency on their platform, Facebook announced that they will now display the location of origin of a Facebook Page or Instagram account on every one of their widely shared posts. While the location information only applies to accounts with a ‘large audience,’ the feature was rolled out so that end-users “have a better understanding of how reliable or authentic the accounts may be.”
Dangerous And Nonsubstantive 5G Misinformation Abounds
As if COVID-19 wasn’t bad enough, some have used their free time to stir up a number of conspiracy theories tying the disease to the ongoing 5G rollout. The baseless theories have caused a number of instances of property destruction of cell phone towers across Europe, warrantying Twitter to change its COVID-19 content policies. The platform stated that they have broadened their guidance “on unverified claims that incite people to engage in harmful activity, could lead to the destruction or damage of critical 5G infrastructure or could lead to widespread panic, social unrest, or large-scale disorder.” Since the policy change, Twitter has removed more than 2,200 Tweets and challenged over 3.4 million accounts that they believed were engaged in discussions around COVID-19 with spammy or manipulative behaviors.
Google Goes Further In Personal Fight Against COVID-19 Misinformation
In recent days, Google has pledged $6.5 million to put toward fighting the spread of misinformation around the coronavirus pandemic. This funding will be spread amongst fact-checkers, news organizations, and nonprofits globally in an effort to help news outlets expose and track misinformation related to COVID-19.
How Do You Navigate An Infodemic?
The freedom of speech versus fake news debate has been going on for a while, but when the fake news in question can contribute to an ever-evolving public health crisis it makes tech giants understandably take a look at (and potentially re-evaluate) some of their policies, even if they are admittedly contradictory. Technology-focused journalism outfit Protocol has rounded up many of these conjectures about this “infodemic” and asks: Are tech giants doing it right?
Ciciline Says No More Mergers Until End Of Crisis
Rep. Ciciline (D-RI), chairman of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, has requested a moratorium on mergers and acquisitions as part of the next COVID-19 response bill. The request was made in an effort to prevent venture capital firms from swooping in and buying up many small companies. His colleague Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) echoed this in her recent op-ed, that the current crisis “means hitting pause on exploitative corporate takeovers and private equity activity that might help the rich get even richer, but won’t help our economy recover.” Warren, along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), is set to introduce legislation in the coming days that would put a temporary halt to mergers involving large companies during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill, expected to be titled the Pandemic Anti-Monopoly Act, would “freeze mergers that include companies that have more than $100 million in revenue, are run by hedge funds or private equity firms or that have exclusive patents impacted by the crisis, like key medical equipment.”
Though not having commented on the expected bill, even notorious tech-critic Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) spoke out on stronger antitrust provisions at this time, stating that: “Strong antitrust enforcement and stiffer corporate transparency rules will help to ensure that, when our economy gets moving, we don’t have a wave of mergers and liquidations that set our workers back yet again.” Hawley also recently called for the US Attorney General’s office to launch an antitrust investigation into Amazon’s third-party seller and data practices.
It’s All, Big, Bad Tech Until You Run Out Of TP
While close scrutiny of large corporations during a time of economic crisis is to be expected to protect small businesses, pushing forward any sweeping or long-lasting antitrust measures in reaction to a global crisis will harm companies of all sizes. Additionally, any legislation will likely have a prolonged negative impact far outside the pandemic. As such, we recently commented that any legislation indefinitely broadening government power with regards to the industry should not be passed during times of crisis. While its intentions may be good, it may negatively impact the growth and market entrance of small tech companies in the long term. Read more of our take here.
Zooming Into Courts
With Zoom now a household name, their quick growth (and security woes) show that all tech companies need to be on top of their cybersecurity. Now more than ever. Jumping from 10 million to 200 million daily users overnight easily makes a tech company the target of a lawsuit. Especially if you’re at the peak of your pandemic popularity.
Court Is In Session… Sort Of
The pandemic has delayed almost everything, but justice shall prevail. While the Supreme Court had initially postponed their spring oral arguments due to COVID-19, citing the Spanish Flu precedent, they have since resumed some of their work. A number of decisions are to be announced in the coming days. With social distancing likely lasting longer than the Court (or any of us) initially expected, they have moved to hear a number of oral arguments on the docket by teleconference. The much anticipated Google V. Oracle decision, however, is still set to be heard in person, with reports claiming that the court intends to push the oral arguments to October, presumably when they can safely hear arguments in-person post the COVID-19-induced hiatus.