Hillicon Valley: Privacy hawks monitor contact tracing projects | Strike planned at Amazon, grocery delivery companies | Lyft cutting nearly 1K workers

Hillicon Valley: Privacy hawks monitor contact tracing projects | Strike planned at Amazon, grocery delivery companies | Lyft cutting nearly 1K workers
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PRIVACY HAWKS WATCHING: Privacy hawks say they’re keeping a close eye on a new project tied to contact tracing that involves Apple and Google, warning that information gathered on Americans must remain limited to fighting the coronavirus.


The two companies earlier this month announced their joint effort to create a software package for public health organizations that would allow them to develop contact tracing applications.

The apps will create a list, kept on individuals’ phones, of people they have come into contact with over a roughly two-week period. If an app user becomes infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, they can choose to share the diagnosis with a centralized database operated by the public health service.

Privacy advocates would normally be opposed to that kind of information gathering, but many are indicating a willingness to set those concerns aside, up to a point at least, in order to help fight the spread of the virus. Tracing the disease is seen as a key step to safely reopening the economy, particularly since a vaccine is 12-18 months away, at best.

"Contact tracing will be key, along with actual testing, to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus," Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate Democrats offer fresh support for embattled Tanden The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump teases on 2024 run Sunday shows - Trump's reemergence, COVID-19 vaccines and variants dominate MORE (D-Va.) said in a statement to The Hill this week. "While the approach Google and Apple are pursuing appears to be less invasive than alternatives, it is not without privacy risks."

The program’s use of Bluetooth for tracing means a user’s physical location will not be collected, just the identities of the people they have been in contact with. If necessary, the public health service would notify everyone who has come close to an infected person, likely recommending that they self-isolate or seek a coronavirus test.

Apple and Google said in their announcement that the program had “user privacy and security central to the design.” They later added that the project was more of an exposure notification system than contact tracing, noting that the service does not involve identifying infection hot spots or interviewing users.

Some lawmakers said they plan to monitor the project to ensure privacy standards remain intact.


Read more here.


MASS MAY DAY STRIKE: Workers at several major companies say they will walk off the job Friday in protest of their employers' failures to protect them during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a flyer shared on social media, organizers of the “May Day General Strike” call on customers to boycott Whole Foods, Amazon, Instacart and Target, which owns the delivery service Shipt.

Friday's strike comes amid rising activism from workers at the companies, many of whom have been exposed to and even died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

"Because of the failings of our employers, many of our fellow employees have contracted this deadly virus and some have died," the strike's organizers wrote in a press release Wednesday. "Although there have been some changes in company policies, they are not enough to adequately protect us."

Workers at the companies have been protesting and striking in recent weeks, calling for a series of worker protections including hazard pay, accessible sick leave and protective equipment.

Friday will be the first time they coordinate that activism.

"We are only essential as our health and for that reason we have decided to demonstrate our civil rights on May Day, International Workers Day," the organizers wrote.

Read more here.


LYFT CUTS 17% OF STAFF: Lyft is laying off nearly 1,000 workers and furloughing another 288 as the coronavirus pandemic slashes its business, the company announced in Wednesday.

The 982 employees it will lay off account for 17 percent of the ride-sharing giant's workforce, Lyft said in a regulatory filing.

Lyft has also implemented base salary reductions for all other employees, as well as the 12-week-long furloughs.


Lyft CEO Logan Green said in a statement to The Hill on Wednesday that the layoffs were a "difficult decision."

"Our guiding principle for decision-making right now is to ensure we emerge from the crisis in the strongest possible position to achieve the company’s mission," he said.

The salary cuts will kick in May 1, and will include a 30 percent reduction for executive leadership, 20 percent for vice presidents and 10 percent for all other employees.

The company said it expects to take an approximately $28 million to $36 million hit from restructuring and related charges from the layoffs, primarily related to employee severance and benefits.

Read more here.


NYPD INVESTIGATING COVID SCAMS: The New York Police Department (NYPD) is looking into online scams that involve threatening to infect an individual’s family with COVID-19 if they refuse to pay those targeting them, The Daily Beast reported Wednesday. 


The scam, part of the tidal wave of malicious cyber activity during the coronavirus pandemic, involves the cyber criminals using phishing emails to play on fears of the virus to pressure individuals to give them money or cryptocurrency.

The Daily Beast reviewed a sensitive NYPD document dated April 20 that warned that “threat actors around the world have flooded the internet with COVID-19 themed phishing scams in attempts to capitalize on fears of the virus for financial gain.”

The NYPD did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment on the report. 

John Miller, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism, told The Daily Beast in a statement that “the commercial scams, trying to defraud institutions out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, are complex and layered. These are of great concern because of the amounts of money involved and the fact that the person who pays needs these supplies to protect patients or customers.”

Read more here.


DEMS, ADVOCACY GROUPS PUSH FOR BROADBAND: A group of Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups are teaming up to push for federal funding to ensure affordable Internet access nationwide in the next coronavirus stimulus package.


Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyHillicon Valley: High alert as new QAnon date approaches Thursday | Biden signals another reversal from Trump with national security guidance | Parler files a new case Senators question Bezos, Amazon about cameras placed in delivery vans OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine MORE (D-Mass.) and Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) joined a dozen of the groups, including Common Sense Media and Demand Progress, in a livestream Wednesday to make the case for new funding.

"We have a digital divide in this country, there's no question about it," Blumenthal said.

"In Connecticut, I hear about it literally every day because of this pandemic. The need for online learning at home has heightened and highlighted that digital divide — it is a disparity that is unjust and deeply unwise for America because we are depriving ourselves of significant talent that is very simply shut out of our economy and our society."

"The coronavirus pandemic has shone a bright light on the homework gap experienced by the 12 million students in this country who do not have internet access at home, and are unable to complete their homework," Markey added.

The dozen groups jointly delivered more than 110,000 petition signatures to Congress Wednesday urging for access to the internet to be guaranteed in the upcoming funding package.

“The cost of broadband is so high and the broadband-providers’ policies are so discriminatory that even before the crisis began and millions lost their sources of income, more than one-fifth of households nationwide didn’t have home internet,” reads one of the group’s petitions.

Read more here.


Lighter click: @NASA check this out

An op-ed to chew on: The public gets innovative during the coronavirus pandemic


Mutual Aid Networks Are Distributing Food With Tech That Works For Everyone (Motherboard / Janus Rose)

'This isn't Webvan': Giants and upstarts are racing to seize grocery delivery's moment (Protocol / Sara Harrisonand and Levi Sumagaysay)

Exam anxiety: How remote test-proctoring is creeping students out (Verge / Monica Chin)

A Scramble for Virus Apps That Do No Harm (New York Times / Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Natasha Singer and Aaron Krolik)