The Week in Tech: Coronavirus Hits Apple’s Financial Forecast


Hello, New York Times tech readers. I’m Nellie Bowles, the tech and culture reporter, here now with the roundup of the news.

It was a week that captured the central issues of tech in 2020: privacy versus the convenience of smart home devices, dependence on the smooth running of China’s manufacturing industry, battles over regulation in Europe and the lockdown on internal dissent at Silicon Valley companies.

So to those wanting to take a break from the endless Democratic primary jockeying, settle into a good chair, because what the week brought you is a basket of beautiful tech features.

We begin:

Coronavirus is starting to affect tech production lines and demand for products. Apple cut its sales expectations for the quarter, citing the virus’s impact on factories and stores. The warning was a clear indication of how big the company has bet on China and how the impact of the outbreak might ripple out into the global economy, explored in an article by Daisuke Wakabayashi.

Amazon executives are also preparing for coronavirus disruptions. An article by Karen Weise and Michael Corkery outlined the measures the company is taking to hedge against the potential that the impact of the virus gets worse. The Everything Store is “making larger and more frequent orders of Chinese-made products that had already been shipped to the United States,” they wrote.

  • Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

But at the same time, some suppliers are trying to lower demand, cutting back on advertising and promotions so they don’t run out of stuff.

Speaking of Amazon: Not everyone agrees on where to draw the line between privacy and convenience, sometimes not even everyone in the same house. One couple fighting over whether to keep an Alexa-enabled Echo speaker in the home invented their own solution: a bracelet of silence that jams microphones. Wear it and it’s like smart-home armor. The tale of the couple, two computer science professors, was brought to us by Kashmir Hill.

But if you do agree on getting something that records video and listens — especially a Ring doorbell — there are some privacy best practices, which Brian X. Chen outlined in his latest Tech Fix column. There are many, many steps required, including getting a burner phone number. And his conclusion: “If that all sounds like a lot of effort just to use a security camera, that’s because the security concerns make Ring products impractical to own.”

In Europe, leaders are very good at regulating technology, pioneering responses to issues of privacy and antitrust, but can it build tech giants of its own? My colleagues Adam Satariano and Monika Pronczuk wrote: “As Europe has created a reputation as the world’s most aggressive watchdog of Silicon Valley, it has failed to nurture its own tech ecosystem. That has left countries in the region increasingly dependent on companies that many leaders distrust.” Now it is trying to change that and reclaim “technological sovereignty.”

Not surprisingly, Silicon Valley companies have been making more trips to Brussels recently to lobby against some of that regulation: a new digital policy, including first-of-its-kind rules on the ways that artificial intelligence can be used by companies, Adam wrote.

  • Marker, a new business site by Medium, is rolling out some great stories this week including a series on “The New Rules of the I.P.O.”

  • Kickstarter officially voted to unionize. There have been large efforts to organize tech labor, but many have faltered.

  • San Diego is likely to recognize Instacart workers as employees rather than independent contractors, according to a story in Bloomberg Law.

  • A general reminder from The New York Times Magazine’s Future of Work issue: Professional video game players are in high demand as the industry competes for talent, and now they make even more money.

    According to Newzoo, a games-and-e-sports analytics company, competitive e-sports revenue last year was about $1.1 billion, an almost 27 percent increase from 2018, Robert Capps wrote. So, in conclusion, get in while the getting is good.

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