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There's one kind of technology stock that's been immune to the coronavirus fears roiling the market: Companies that allow people to stay at home.
Investors are betting that businesses that enable working, exercising or even getting medical care remotely will see a boost – even as growing warnings about the virus’s spread slash the stocks of Big Tech companies that rely on suppliers in China. These are some outliers as the Dow Jones industrial average saw its worst four consecutive days since the financial crisis:
- Zoom, a videoconferencing software, spiked in downloads this week as workers around the world exercised more caution about attending meetings in person, according to analyst reports. Its stock was up 6 percent yesterday.
- Peloton, a home exercise equipment company, saw its shares increase as analysts said people may grow wary of exercising in communal gyms.
- Teladoc, a company enabling people to talk with physicians remotely, yesterday saw its shares rise more than 15 percent.
There could be more boons – and to other “stay at home” tech platforms such as Slack and Cisco Webex – as Wall Street reacts to offices and schools shuttering in an attempt to contain the virus's spread. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that American schools and workplaces should be prepared to take the same precautions.
Companies around the globe are already establishing remote work contingency plans. So far this month, at least 65 public company transcripts included the phrases “work from home” or “working from home,” according to financial data platform Sentieo’s blog. That’s up from the prior monthly record of just 11, in April 2018.
One such company is Coinbase, a digital currency exchange headquartered in San Francisco. Its publicly released contingency plans allow for even more workers to stay home the outbreak intensifies. Options include including potentially limiting visitors to the office and ending meal service in the office if more employees are working from home.
But it cautioned that it was planning for the worst scenarios. “The most important overall context to have here is that we’re planning for a really negative outcome," the document said. “We don’t expect to see anything like this in reality.”
Remote meeting tech might also get a boost if travel and conferences continue to be canceled due to concerns about covid-19. Facebook announced yesterday it would cancel its upcoming developers' conference due to concerns about the virus. Instead, the company is planning to videostream some of the content. Many tech companies have major conferences in the spring that could be disrupted, and they've already taken steps to limit employee travel to countries such as China.
As there are increasing signs that people could be spending more time at home, Wall Street is thinking about its next play. Analysts at MKM Partners suggested video-streaming services such as Netflix or gaming company Activision could come out winners if more people are quarantined and looking for entertainment at home.
“We tried to identify what products/services/companies would potentially benefit in a world of quarantined individuals. What would people do if stuck inside all day?” JC O’Hara of MKM Partners said in a note, according to a CNBC report.
BITS, NIBBLES AND BYTES
BITS: Clearview AI, a controversial facial-recognition start-up, had contracts with thousands of government agencies, retailers and other organizations around the world, Ryan Mac, Caroline Haskins and Logan McDonald report for BuzzFeed News. Documents reveal the company's clients included U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Best Buy, Walmart and a sovereign wealth fund in the United Arab Emirates.
The revelations underscore how many entities around the world already were accessing Clearview AI's technology. There are calls to regulate the company, and social networks such as Twitter have mounted legal challenges against Clearview for scraping photos from their services. But there was little public scrutiny of the company until the New York Times revealed last month that the company had developed systems to match photos of people of interest to online images culled from millions of sites.
The company's software has been used by more than 2,200 law enforcement departments, government agencies and companies across 27 countries, according to BuzzFeed.
“Clearview has taken a flood-the-zone approach to seeking out new clients, providing access not just to organizations, but to individuals within those organizations — sometimes with little or no oversight or awareness from their own management,” BuzzFeed reports.
The reporting undermines Clearview executives' defense of their product. Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That said on Fox Business earlier this month that it was “strictly for law enforcement.” But BuzzFeed reports the company has been pursuing clients in industries as varied as law, retail, banking and gaming.
Clearview pushed back on BuzzFeed's reporting. “There are numerous inaccuracies in this illegally obtained information,” Clearview attorney Tor Ekeland told BuzzFeed. “As there is an ongoing Federal investigation, we have no further comment."
NIBBLES: The Federal Communications Commission is expected to fine AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile at least $200 million combined for exposing some customers' real-time location data, David Shepardson reports for Reuters. The companies will be able to challenge the fines before they're finalized, and the precise amount could change.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said earlier this year that “one or more wireless carriers apparently violated federal law.” The FCC and the carriers did not immediately comment.
The agency said in May 2018 it was investigating reports that a website vulnerability may have allowed mobile phone customers to be tracked. The investigation expanded into other ways that third-party firms use consumers' location.
Mobile phone companies have permitted location-data use for programs such as roadside assistance, logistics, medical emergency alert services, human trafficking alerts and fraud prevention, David reports.
Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel criticized the agency for taking too long to respond to reports that “shady middlemen could sell your location within a few hundred meters based on your wireless phone data.” She added: “It’s chilling to consider what a black market could do with this data.”
An industry group representing wireless carriers said last month that “upon hearing allegations of misuse of the data, carriers quickly investigated, suspended access to the data and subsequently terminated those programs.”
BYTES: Teenagers are using the video-sharing app TikTok to form political coalitions, Taylor Lorenz reports in the New York Times. Many of the teens are too young to vote, but they're campaigning for their favorite candidates, posting news updates and fact-checking opponents.
“They are sharing real-time commentary for an audience that is far more likely to watch YouTube videos than turn on a cable news channel,” Lorenz wrote.
But Lorenz says the TikTok users have a lot in common with TV networks because each have a cast of talking heads. But on TikTok, they're not called channels. They'e called “hype houses,” after an influencer collab house in California. They're not physical homes but virtual ones presented as group accounts.
The hype houses run the political spectrum, from conservative and liberal to bipartisan and undecided.
“CNN and Fox and big-name news media, those are all geared toward people who have honestly grown up with a longer attention span," Sterling Cade Lewis, 19, who has nearly 100,000 followers, told Taylor.
TikToks, by contrast, are 60 seconds at most, and many clips are shorter. “Being able to make shorter videos and educational clips, it’s easier to connect with a younger generation who’s just swiping through their phones 24/7,” Mr. Lewis said.
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— Coming up:
- Nava Public Benefit Corporation will host a conversation moderated by the Technology 202's Cat Zakrzewsk on "Impact at Scale: From Big Tech to Civic Tech" at 6pm on March 10.
- SXSW will take place in Austin March 13-22.
- The Game Developers Conference will take place in San Francisco March 16-20.