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Tech companies mandate vaccines and masks to fend off delta variant

July 29, 2021, 3:29 PM UTC

A familiar tide is rising in the United States, as the COVID-19 delta variant accelerates its spread through those still unvaccinated.

This surge is emboldening tech companies like Google and Facebook, which took early precautions by closing offices in February and March 2020, to now require that employees are fully vaccinated before returning to work. Google CEO Sundar Pichai says that the vaccine requirement will first be implemented in the United States, and later applied to its offices in more than 40 countries.

Other companies also requiring vaccination are asset management firm BlackRock, investment bank Morgan Stanley, private hospital firm Ascension Health, ride-hailing company Lyft, and the casts and crews of Netflix shows. Twitter, on the other hand, is taking a more conservative approach. It is closing its New York and San Francisco offices, and shelving any re-opening plans.

Companies are legally allowed to mandate that employees get the vaccine in order to return to a physical office, guidance from the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission said in late May. In order to stay within the bounds of the law, companies only need to create alternative arrangements for those with legitimate medical and religious exemptions.

These new regulations come as companies are antsy to get back into the office. Google pushed its re-opening date yet again from September to at least October, Pichai said, and would give employees at least 30 days of notice on the new date. Some employees will be allowed to work from home until the end of the year.

It’s likely more companies will follow suit. Politicians like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have urged businesses to require vaccines, and the Biden administration will require all federal employees and contractors to get the shots.

Mask mandates are also coming back for tech companies with retail operations, like Apple, even for those who have been vaccinated. All customers and employees will have to wear masks, the company said, after new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended vaccinated people wear masks to reduce the potential spread of the delta variant.

At the beginning of the pandemic, tech companies were seen as the paradigms of remote work. Not only did these companies, like Microsoft and Google, specialize in building the technology for distributed workforces, but they also modeled how to keep digital workplaces rolling without physical spaces. Now, they’re leading the charge in reopening. On display is an array of remote or hybrid work models, where employees can work a few days a week from partially reopened offices, and the option to work remote is used as a tool to recruit top talent located outside major tech hubs.

Dave Gershgorn 
@DaveGershgorn

NEWSWORTHY

Didi bends. Ride-hailing giant DiDi Global is considering going private after a series of regulatory actions by China's central government took it off major app stores, cratering its stock price. The company went public on US markets in the middle of 2020. The wallowing stock price hit investors like SoftBank, which is planning to sell about a third of its stake in Uber to cover its loses.

Internet cash. The Senate's infrastructure bill includes $65 billion for broadband internet access, which will be paid to telecom providers for offering expanded internet access to those with low income. It's a smaller amount than the $100 billion President Biden had previously proposed, according to The Verge. The bill's text has yet to be written and finalized, so the details are still subject to change.

Facebook pivots to video. Those scrolling Facebook are spending at least half their time watching videos, CEO Mark Zuckerberg told investors in an earnings call yesterday. It seems like the video strategy is working, too. The company reported $29 billion in revenue for Q2 2021, more than a 50% increase over the previous year.

Surprise, the PS5 is a hit. Sony announced that it has sold 10 million PlayStation 5 consoles since November 2020, which makes it the fastest-selling PlayStation yet. Despite more than 10 million units having been manufactured, it's still nearly impossible to buy. Major retailers continue to sell out minutes after receiving more stock.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

A Facebook whistleblower speaks. In MIT Tech Review, former Facebook data scientists Sophie Zhang details how inauthentic accounts are used to sway global elections. The piece not only shares a crucial look inside the Facebook's problems, but the considerations of a tech whistleblower and the emotional toll the act takes.

Fake engagement refers to things such as likes, shares, and comments that have been bought or otherwise inauthentically generated on the platform. The focus of the new team’s work was narrower, on so-called “scripted inauthentic activity”—fake likes and shares produced by automated bots, used to drive up someone’s popularity.

The vast majority of such cases were people obtaining likes for vanity. But half a year in, Zhang intuited that politicians could do the same to increase their influence and reach on the platform. It didn’t take long for her to find examples in Brazil and India, in the lead up to general elections.

But in the process of searching for scripted activity, she found something far more worrying. The Facebook page administrator of the Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernández, had created hundreds of pages with fake names and profile pictures to look just like users, and was using them to flood the president’s posts with likes, comments, and shares.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Google hit with antitrust class action over ‘vice-like grip’ on Android app-store and 30% commissions by David Meyer

Robinhood’s IPO marks a sea change in finance by Jan Hammer

How remote work is threatening Singapore’s status as a startup hub by Nicholas Gordon

Ethereum risks it all on going green by Adam Bluestein

Sam Bankman-Fried and the conscience of a crypto billionaire by Claire Zillman

How CEOs are tackling the problem of data overload by Jessica Mathews

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BEFORE YOU GO

Where does all the crypto go? The US Marshals have been seizing cryptocurrency, but don't know how to manage it or sell it. That's led to contracts with crypto companies like Anchorage, which is now responsible for selling the seized assets, according to Decrypt.

The Marshals Service has been responsible for handling billions of dollars' worth of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies either seized by it or other Justice Department agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency. It's then tasked with selling it. For example, it sold 144,336 seized from Ross Ulbricht's dark web marketplace, Silk Road.

That sale netted $48.2 million, a big haul at the time. But it's now worth $5.7 billion, making crypto seizures a large revenue stream for the agency.

By the way, Fortune just put out a special issue all about crypto. You can read it here.

Technology at the Summer Olympics
The last time Tokyo hosted the Summer Games was 1964. That was the first Olympics to be televised live, around the world, and in color. The event continues to be a hotspot of innovation for broadcast. Tuning in this year you may hear mention of an athlete's metabolic data, or analysis comparing the acceleration of runners. New tech is capturing this information and spitting out the details within seconds. In today's Brainstorm you'll learn about a variety of ways technology is improving the Olympic viewing experience - providing more data and cooler camera angles than ever before.

Also in today's episode, how athletes are increasingly using technology to improve their skills, and how one Olympic team is employing a unique product to protect against COVID-19.

Guests include Gary Saunders, president of Kontrol Biocloud; Rick Echevarria, general manager of Intel's Olympics and Paralympics Program; and Ashton Eaton, a gold-medal Olympian, product engineer at Intel and advisor to the Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance. Listen to the podcast here.

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