with Tonya Riley

Uber is not the same business it was before covid-19. 

Since the pandemic hit, the company has grown increasingly reliant on food deliveries to buoy its beleaguered rides business, which suffered losses of 80 percent or more in the hardest hit markets in April. It has temporarily eliminated its “UberPOOL” option, which puts multiple passengers headed in the same direction into one car, allowing them to split certain trip costs.

On Thursday, Uber is expected to release its second quarter earnings numbers, for the period from April through June. 

The figures could paint a dire picture for not only the company but the ride-hailing industry as a whole. Uber is expected to post a substantial loss. At the very least, however, company executives will have the chance to shape a narrative around ride-hailing’s future.

Thursday’s updates will tell Wall Street whether the appetite for ride-sharing still exists in the wake of a virus that has changed the nature of work and commuting. The pandemic has obliterated the concept of “shared” rides and raised concerns about the Silicon Valley dream of taking a trip in the back of a stranger’s car — with all the potential safety and hygiene concerns that entails.

“The market thinks that it may be a long time before we recover to Ubering as much as we did in future years as we did in 2019,” said Mark Mahaney, managing director with RBC Capital Markets who covers Internet research.

Uber has already previewed some of its numbers. 

In a July analyst call following its acquisition of rival food delivery app Postmates, Uber said its second quarter gross bookings — the sum total it took in from passengers — declined by roughly 75 percent compared to last year, though the figure had recovered to about 60 percent more recently.

Meanwhile, food delivery was on a tear, logging 100 percent more in gross bookings compared to the same period last year. Uber said that its overall gross bookings were down only 40 percent in April, owing to the surge in deliveries that insulated total losses.

Still, analysts said, Uber is at an inflection point that has left its stock trading at just over $30 for the month of July, well below last year’s initial public offering price of $45.

“We’ve talked about structural winners coming out of the covid crisis: We’ve seen dramatic accelerated adoption of online retail,” Mahaney said. “It’s possible that there are structural losers as a result of the pandemic and maybe one of them is ride-share.”

Mahaney said that while he remains bullish about the business’s long-term prospects, “it’s possible that there’s maybe fundamentally structurally a lower demand for ridesharing in the future because of covid.”

There's one bit of welcome news for the industry.

However long the disruption lasts, the losses likely bottomed out in the second quarter as the strictest lockdowns took effect, analysts said. That means Uber and rival Lyft, which reports earnings next week, can begin to focus on what kind of businesses they want to be in the pandemic’s wake.

“Uber and Lyft will emerge on the other side of this dark valley much leaner and more profitable businesses as we head into 2021 and beyond,” wrote Dan Ives, analyst with Wedbush Securities, in an analyst report ahead of the earnings calls. “Clearly it's still a slow thaw … and likely an even longer return to normal environment, including business travel, there's still a long road ahead for ride-share.”

Ives noted riders’ skepticism of packing into crowded trains and buses during the pandemic, something he said could be an “incremental demand driver” in the short term.

Our top tabs

Twitter temporarily suspended Trump's campaign account from tweeting.

The account was restored after the Trump campaign deleted the video clip from a Fox News interview in which President Trump said that children are “almost immune” to covid-19, Heather Kelly reports. 

Twitter spokeswoman Liz Kelley said the tweet violated "Twitter Rules on COVID-19 misinformation."

Facebook also removed a post of the same video on Trump's official page citing a violation of its covid-19 misinformation policy.

“This video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from covid-19, which is a violation of our policies around harmful covid misinformation,” said Facebook spokesman Andy Stone.

While many children have had milder symptoms from the virus, researchers have found they are still able to catch it and spread it to other people, Heather reports.

This is the first time Facebook has removed a post by the president under its coronavirus misinformation policy. The company has in the past labeled misleading and violent posts by Trump but has not removed them. Facebook and Twitter have generally taken a more aggressive approach against coronavirus misinformation that could endanger public health than with political misinformation.

Last week Twitter temporarily suspended Donald Trump Jr. for posting potentially harmful misinformation about coronavirus treatments not approved by the government, setting off a storm of criticism from conservative users.

Trump's campaign has exploited Facebook's fact-checking loopholes to share false ads with more than 20 million viewers. 

Trump's campaign has promoted multiple untrue claims about opponent former vice president Joe Biden as well as the effectiveness of Trump's response to the coronavirus on the social media platform, a review by The Post found. Yet the posts carry no warning because of Facebook's policy of not fact-checking ads by politicians, Craig Timberg and Andrew Ba Tran report.

Fact-checking organizations that work with Facebook say the company's position poses a serious risk to the 2020 election. 

“It’s crazy,” said Claire Wardle, U.S. director of First Draft, an organization dedicated to fighting misinformation that has a partnership with Facebook. “Because Facebook has decided not to actively fact-check political ads, you have this perverse situation where these fact-checks of problematic ads sit on the fact-checking websites, but there is no mechanism for their work to impact Facebook or their users.” 

Eugene Kiely, the project director for FactCheck.org, another Facebook partner, said he would like to see fact-checks linked below advertisements it has evaluated. “The policy should be that you provide Facebook users with as much information as you can to make good decisions. That’s why we’re here,” Kiely said. 

A group of 21 states attorneys general are demanding Facebook do more to stop discrimination and hate.

Their requests add to the demands of civil rights advocates, politicians and more recently advertisers for the platform to improve the way it handles hate speech and harmful content, Elizabeth Dwoskin reports.

The state attorneys general ask that Facebook allow for an independent audit of hateful content on its site and of Facebook's responses to eliminate it. Facebook released its own civil rights audit last month after nearly two years of investigation. The letter, led by Attorney General for the District of Columbia Karl A. Racine, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, cites the role of Facebook in an increase in online and offline hate crimes.

“Hate speech is an issue across the Internet and we are working to make Facebook as safe as possible by investing billions to keep hate off our platform and fight misinformation,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement. “We share the Attorneys General’s goal of ensuring people feel safe on the Internet and look forward to continuing our work with them.”

Facebook is also the target of an ongoing investigation by multiple state attorneys general into its market power.

The digital race to 2020

An Instagram bug prevented Trump hashtags from being associated with negative content. 

Hashtags related to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, however, surfaced attacks against the former vice president and pro-Trump content, BuzzFeed News reported

“A technical error caused a number of hashtags to not show related hashtags,” Instagram representative Raki Wane said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “We've disabled this feature while we investigate.”

More election news:

Workforce report

 California’s labor commissioner sued Uber and Lyft for alleged wage theft. 

The separate lawsuits add to a wave of legal challenges from California's attorney general and multiple California cities alleging that the companies misclassified workers as contractors, depriving them of employee benefits. The lawsuit seeks to recover the amounts owed to all drivers for both companies, including about 5,000 who have already filed complaints with the office, according to a news release.

More workforce news:

Coronavirus fallout

Virginia will launch the first U.S. coronavirus alert app that uses Apple and Google software. 

The app, called COVIDWISE, will use Bluetooth signals to notify users who were in proximity with people who report coronavirus infections, Paresh Dave at Reuters reports.  

“This is a way we can all work together to contain this virus,” Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam said in a televised briefing. “No one is tracking you. None of your personal information is saved.” 

Virginia is one of several states that have signed on to use the technology, but deploying the potentially lifesaving apps has been slowed by a lack of funding and clashes between public officials and the tech giants over data collection. Some states and countries initially declined to use the software because it didn't collect GPS location data, which they said could help them better track the spread of the disease. The companies argued the technology was too invasive.

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