Amazon Ripped For Firing Virus Protest Leader; New Fitbit; Plessey Teams With Facebook on Consumer AR Glasses; F-1 Engineers Building Breathing Aids; Virgin Orbit Will Mass-Produce Breathing Device

After a protest at Amazon’s Staten Island fulfillment center, where 60 employees walked off the job yesterday, Amazon has admitted to firing the employee who claimed he led the walkout. Engadget.com reports that Chris Smalls, a former assistant manager, said the walkout revolved around a demand that Amazon close the center for proper cleaning after several employees had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Amazon is claiming that Smalls violated safety rules, including failing to see-isolate after being exposed to a colleague with a confirmed case of the virus. The company says he had been asked to remain home with pay for 14 days, which Amazon claims they are doing at sites world wide. Amazon also says only 15 employees walked out, not the 60 claimed. NY Attorney General Letitia James released a statement calling Amazon’s firing of Smalls ‘disgraceful,’ and called for an NLRB intervention. She pointed out that the right to organize is codified in New York law, and said the Attorney General’s office is considering legal options.

Fitbit was snatched up by Google last year for $2.1 billion. Now, the first new product is out, and it is…to the shock of no one…a fitness tracker! According to gizmodo.com, the new model is the Charge 4. It has been updated with built-in GPS, NFC payments, Spotify compatibility, and a new focus on active minutes in addition to steps. While there has been a big move to smartwatches, the fitness tracker has a list price of $150, and will probably be available for less quickly. It will ave Fitbit’s Smart Wake alarm feature, in addition to other features already on Fitbit models. Charge time is expected to be 7 days. The Charge 4 is available for preorder now in black, rosewood, and storm blue/black. Again, the base model is $150, or you can opt for a Special Edition for $20 bucks more that has an extra granite reflective or black woven band.

Facebook is teaming up with UK based Plessey on some lightweight AR glasses that they say will be good for a whole day of use without recharging. Venturebeat.com reports that this is not an acquisition, but that Plessey will be dedicating their LED manufacturing operations to Facebook’s use. Plessey’s LED tech partnered with the Oculus Quest and other Oculus ongoing research will lead to such lighter weight and useable glasses. Most smart glasses put a thumbnail sized box in the wearer’s field of view. The Plessey CMOS-based RGB displays allegedly combine high pixel density and very high brightness, and can be used all over the lens area. The are supposed to have low power consumption, despite running a high frame rate. Facebook and Plessey hope to have the lightweight model out by 2023-2025, but will make an interim model in the meantime. Facebook is working with glasses maker Luxottica on fashionable frames for the gadget. Facebook, Google, Apple, and others see AR tech to be a transformational technology over the next 50 years.

Mercedes Formula One engineers and researchers at University College London have teamed up to make a coronavirus breathing aid in less than 100 hours that has been approved by UK’s National Health Service. Cnet.com says Mercedes can start producing 1000 machines a day within a week to start delivering them to hospitals. It is basically a CPAP machine, but with a mask that covers from the chin up over the nose to between the eyes. In Italy, they found that about half the patients treated for COVID-19 with a traditional CPAP machine were able to avoid the need for mechanical ventilation. The use of this device and others will free up more ventilators for patients that need those the most.

Virgin Orbit, one of Richard Branson’s companies that develops rockets to launch small satellites, is converting to make a new medical breathing device. According to theverge.com, they are waiting on FDA approval. The new gadget is a step beyond so-called ambulatory bags, which are used by emergency responders to manually pump air into a patient’s lungs. This device has a mechanism which automatically pumps the air on its own…they are intended for patients who need oxygen, but don’t need to be hooked up to a ventilator. The Virgin Orbit engineers worked with the Bridge Ventilator Consortium, which includes researchers from UC Berkeley, Irvine, and UT-Austin. They hope to be mass producing the devices soon.

I’m Clark Reid


Facebook Pumps $100 Million into Local Journalism Over COVID-19; iPhone 12 Production ‘On Schedule;’ Microsoft Cloud-775% Spike; UD Using Mobile Ad Location Tracking to Follow COVID-19

Facebook…which has taken plenty of heat for accelerating the decimation of local journalism….is now pledging to pump $100 million into the news industry as coverage of the coronavirus pandemic has become so crucial. Theverge.com reports that $25 million will be provided in grant funding for local news through the Facebook Journalism Project, with the remaining $75 million coming from ‘additional marketing spend’ to worldwide news organizations. With the onset of the virus and closing of businesses as people shelter in place, many news publishers and organization s have seen ad income go up in smoke. Radio, TV, and print journalism outlets all depend very heavily if not entirely on ad and promotion revenue for their income. Facebook says it will try to focus the grants on publishers that are the hardest hit.

A report over the weekend seems to contradict the rumors of a delay in iPhone 12 production and the planned rollout in September. According to 9to5mac.com, Foxconn remains on track with the production ramp-up of iPhone 12 models. Full production is expected to begin this summer, when most expect the coronavirus to have died down.Hon Hai (Foxconn) has good reason to pull out all stops to crank out the next generation of iPhones…the company gets half is revenue from making iPhones and other devices for Apple in China. Foxconn also has production facilities in Vietnam, India, and South America.

Microsoft cloud services have seen an amazing spike in usage since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak. Geekwire.com says that as of Saturday, usage is up 775% for services like Microsoft Teams, Windows Virtual Desktop, and Power BI. The bump is especially pronounced in areas that have put into effect social distancing or shelter in place mandates. People have even been using Xbox Live more as a social connection…to the extent that MS has turned off some features like uploading custom gamer pics to help keep its servers running smoothly. Microsoft says that while the scale is unprecedented, the company’s back end systems are holding up fine.

The US has dived into using phone location tracking to keep tabs on the spread of COVID-19. According to engadget.com, federal CDC), state, and local governments have been getting location data from mobile ads to help plan their pandemic response. The data is anonymized, but still shows officials where people continue to gather in significant numbers, which can spread the virus. It also is giving insight into how the virus is impacting retail. The CDC is understood to be getting data through a COVID-19 Mobility Data Network project coordinated by experts at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Princeton and other schools. All well and good during the pandemic, but some privacy advocates worry that there will be unintended consequences once the virus has come under control.


Broadband Speeds Down Due to Virus; Amazon Pauses Sellers’ Loan Repayments; Apple May Delay iPhone 12 Models; Top 10 Binged Netflix Shows

Broadband speeds are down everywhere in the US due to the coronavirus, and people spending more time at home. Zdnet.com reports that it’s slower by 40% in 3 cities…Austin, TX, Winston Salem, NC, and Oxnard CA! It is slower to some degree in 88 of 200 cities analyzed by BroadbandNow, and ISP comparison service. Austin’s last week speeds were 46 Mbps, Winston Salem was averaging 41 Mbps, and Oxnard was at 44 Mbps. We previously reported that Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime have reduced streaming quality to try to handle increased loads. Mobile downloads speeds are also slower according to Ookla’s Speedtest.net.

Amazon has temporarily suspended the requirement that sellers in its marketplace repay loans the online giant had made to them. According to reuters.com, Amazon is pausing repayments as of today, and through April 30th. The loans won’t accrue interest either. Amazon Lending has offered merchant loans ranging from $1000 to $750,000 to fund inventory acquisition, and expansion of product lines…and to advertise on Amazon. The loans normally range in term from 3 months to 12 months, and carry interest of 6% to 19.9%.

With the disruptions in the supply chain and factory closings in Asia due to the coronavirus, Apple is looking at delaying the rollout of its iPhone 12 models…perhaps by months. 9to5mac.com says that, besides supply issues, Apple is expecting demand to be down for a period of time as the virus hits jobs, and reduces spending and consumer confidence. A final decision will be made in May, but we may not see 5G iPhones until 2021 now.

More people working from home has meant streaming is way up. Although bosses may think it’s just employees screwing off during the workday (and no doubt there is some of that going on), a lot of the uptick in viewing can be attributed to people gaining time from not commuting. Here in the Bay Area, working from home can easily free up a couple hours a day, and for some workers, it’s more like 3 hours of windshield or mass transit time. Those hours are now being reclaimed as free time, and people are binging more than ever. Bgr.com has given us the Binge Report! For the week of March 16 through the 22nd, here you are:

1 Elite- Netflix
2 Friends- NBC
3 Grey’s Anatomy- ABC
4 Riverdale- CW
5 On My Block- Netflix
6 Greenhouse Academy- Netflix
7 Brooklyn Nine-Nine- NBC
8 Vikings- History
9 The Walking Dead- AMC
10 The 100- CW


Facebook-COVID-19 Boosts Use But Cutting Revenue; Apple AR Glasses May Launch in 2022; Zoom Meetings Without Smartphone or Desktop App; COVID-19 Package Safety

Facebook says it is seeing an extreme spike in use all over the world which they attribute to the Coronavirus pandemic. The platform says the heaviest use is centered on private messaging and video calling, which are products the company really doesn’t monetize. Theverge.com reports that Facebook complains that its business is suffering as it tries to keep up with the service demands while they have seen ad spending drop off, as have all digital platforms, as well as broadcasters and publications who rely on ad dollars. Facebook is also trying to do all this while it keeps the vast majority of its 45,000 person work force at home.

Apple’s augmented reality glasses may launch in 2022. That’s according to a report from DigiTimes picked up by macrumors.com. Here’s the tantalizing little blurb: ‘Taiwan-based optical component suppliers are engaged in the development of Apple’s augmented reality smart glasses, which may be commercialized by 2022, according to industry sources.” The Information had previously predicted that the Apple AR glasses would be out in 2023, so this rumor has them hitting faces…so to speak…a year earlier. The sets will apparently resemble the old Oculus Quest, only with a sleeker design, that makes “heavy use of fabrics and lightweight materials to ensure the device is comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.” The headset is expected to have a “high-resolution display” that will “allow users to read small type and see other people standing in front of and behind virtual objects.”

The late Aretha Franklin peered into the future with her 1985 hit, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who”. So how do you do a Zoom meeting if you are…say…in a hotel or Air BnB away from your own computer with the app, and your smartphone battery dies? Businessinsider.com says you can find a dial in number at the bottom of the invite. You won’t have the video, of course, but will be able to dial into the meeting at least. You can also hit their site for Zoom’s International Dial-In Numbers. Two hints from them: punch *6 to mute or unmute, and *9 to raise your hand.

The latest “OMG, it’s gonna get me” freak out seems to be that you’ll catch the coronavirus from your Amazon boxes. According to geekwire.com, the COVID-19 virus is ‘stable’ on cardboard for 24 hours, but your risk of getting it from such is low. Their info comes from a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Variables do include temperature, air quality, and others. The CDC said “there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures.” “The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low,” the WHO noted. Just wash your hands after unboxing 20 seconds with soap and water. If you are REALLY paranoid, unbox with rubber gloves on, dispose of the box, THEN take off the gloves and wash up!


New Windows Zero Day Flaw; Streamers Demand Jumps; Verizon-Extra 15 Gigs Data For a Month; Snopes Reduces Fact-Checking; Apple Bows Option to Buy Combo Mac & iOS Apps

Microsoft has said attackers are exploiting a previously undisclosed vulnerability found in ALL supported versions of Windows, including 10. According to techcrunch.com, there isn’t a patch right now, either. Microsoft calls the flaw ‘critical,’ which is its highest severity rating. The flaw has to do with how Windows handles and renders fonts. Apparently, it can be exploited by tricking a victim into opening a malicious document…and from there, an attacker can remotely run malware….including ransomware, on a compromised system. Microsoft is working on a patch, but says they probably won’t have it out until April 14th.

As you might imagine with so many people working from home, streaming is way up. 9to5mac.com reports that Disney+ has had the biggest increases, with a tripling of their sign up rate…mainly thanks to school closings. HBO Now reports a 90% gain, and Showtime is up 78%. Netflix got a 47% bump, which is huge when you consider how large their base is already. Apple TV+ (womp, womp) was only up 10%.

Although with lots of people working from home, they are probably using WiFi on their smart devices, Verizon has announced that it is giving all wireless mobile customers an additional 15 gigs of data from March 25th through April 30th. Businessinsider.com says this includes both consumers and small businesses, and it applies to both metered and unmetered plans. If you are on unlimited data, it will be applied if you are using hot spots. The reality is, this is really a cheap way for Verizon to market. The only time most people will tap into the extra gigs is if their home WiFi goes down.

There is so much misinformation and just outright lies around COVID-19, Snopes is overwhelmed, and will be cutting back fact-checking until further notice on most other topics. According to theverge.com, Snopes is also redirecting people to sites with reliable info like the CDC and WHO. Snopes is offering all its employees a $750 cash bonus to aid with any costs they may be facing during the pandemic, and they are also offering paid time off for workers who have to look after themselves or family members affected by COVID-19.

Apple is rolling out a new deal that will allow developers to sell Mac and iOS apps as a single ‘Universal Purchase,’ which means that when you buy one, you will have access to the other automatically. Engadget.com reports that the tool has been launched, and that it also extends to in-app purchases. Don’t get too fired up yet…there aren’t any apps that support Universal Purchase yet…that awaits Apple dropping the Xcode 11.4 Gold Master to developers.


Top iPhone Getting Sensor-Shift Image Stabilization; CDC Launches COVID-19 Self-Checker; Best Buy Moves to Curbside Pickup Only; Amazon Stops All But Essential Products Delivery for Italy & France

Top Apple tout Ming-Chi Kuo says Apple is planning a high-end 6.7-inch iPhone model for release in 2020, and multiple reports have indicated that the device will feature multiple rear camera improvements, including larger sensors that capture more light for better image quality. Macrumors.com reports that Kuo said that the 6.7-inch iPhone will also feature sensor-shift image stabilization. In a research note with TF International Securities, obtained by MacRumors, Kuo predicted that the technology will expand to two to three new iPhone models in 2021. Sensor-shift technology could bring image stabilization to the Ultra Wide lens on future iPhones, starting with the 6.7-inch model. iPhone 11 Pro models feature optical image stabilization for both photo and video, but only when using the Wide or Telephoto lenses. Sensor-shift technology would provide a solution for this, as the stabilization would apply to the camera sensor itself and not be dependent on any specific lens. Sensor-shifting image stabilization could also result in better shots with attachable lens accessories like the OlloClip or the fabulous Moment add on lenses. Kuo today also predicted that at least one 2022 iPhone model will feature a periscope lens, which could allow for 5x optical zoom like Huawei’s P30 Pro or even 10x optical zoom as is rumored for the device’s P40 Pro successor. iPhones currently max out at 2x optical zoom and 10x digital zoom. Optical zoom preserves the quality of a shot when zooming in, while digital zoom results in some blurriness.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention introduced a bot over the weekend to help people make decisions about what to do if they have potential symptoms of COVID-19. According to techcrunch.com, it’s called Clara. The “coronavirus self-checker” was created in partnership with CDC Foundation and Microsoft Azure’s Healthcare Bot service. While COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, Clara is intended for use by people currently in the United States. According to the CDC, as of March 22, there were more than 15,200 cases in the United States and 200 deaths. Microsoft said screening patients who have cold or flu-like symptoms to determine who needs “access to limited medical resources” creates a “bottleneck that threatens to overwhelm health systems coping with the crisis.” Its Healthcare Bot uses AI and is intended to help the CDC answer more queries, enabling medical professionals to look after patients who need critical care.
Clara is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment purposes. The questions walk users through symptoms and then gives recommendations if they need medical care.

As of yesterday, Best Buy is limiting its US stores to “contactless” curbside service, allowing only employees into its stores. Engadget.com says orders placed on the Best Buy website or via its app will be delivered to customers’ cars outside its stores by employees. The curbside system includes returns and exchanges. Best Buy has suspended its in-home installations and repair services, as well as its product trade-in and recycling services.

You may have noticed that Amazon has cut back or effectively eliminated for now its same day or two day delivery in the US. Engadget.com is reporting that Amazon is taking dramatic steps to prioritize orders in areas hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The online retailer told Reuters in a statement that it would temporarily stop taking orders for “some non-essential products” in France and Italy to help Amazon warehouses focus on more vital deliveries. The company didn’t say just what it was stopping, but it believes essentials include groceries, health products, household items, personal care, industrial goods, scientific products and pet supplies.


Apple Unveils New iPad & MacBook Air; Feds Talking To Tech Co’s to Track People; Facebook Software Goes Nuts-Deleting Real News Articles; US Waves Privacy Penalties for Phone or Online Screening During Coronavirus

Apple has revealed a new iPad Pro with a LiDAR Scanner. It rocks an A12Z Bionic chip which Apple says is faster and more powerful than most Windows PC laptops. The new Pro has an Ultra Wide camera, ‘studio quality’ mics, and the aforementioned LiDAR scanner that delivers ‘cutting-edge depth-sensing capabilities,’ which Cupertino notes will open up more pro workflows and will support pro photo and video apps. The new Pro is available today at apple.com. In addition, Apple has brought trackpad support to iPads…not just this Pro model. They claim more feature rich trackpad experiences for users than on laptops. The new Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro has the trackpad and it will be available in May. The entry level 11 inch iPad Pro starts at $799, and you can drop up to $1149 for the 12.9 incher with WiFi and Cellular. Magic Keyboard starts at $279 for college students (11 inch model) up to $329 for the 12.9 inch version.

Apple also unveiled the new MacBook Air today. The new 13 inch Air features the new Magic Keyboard, has two times faster performance, is bulked up with 256 gigs of storage, and starts at $999….$899 for educators and students.

The Mac Mini got a boost today…standard configurations now come with double the storage capacity. the $799 model now gets 256 gigs of SSD, and the $1099 version will have 512 gigs. You can special order up to 2 TB of storage. Standard models will ship within one business day. All items are available online only, as Apple stores are closed right now due to the coronavirus.

The creepiness never stops. In a truly Orwellian move, the US government is in talks with several tech companies, including Facebook and Google about using data from cell phones with their apps to track people, in an attempt to combat the ongoing coronavirus epidemic. According to techcrunch.com, the talks also include health experts tracking the pandemic and it’s transmission, and one possible way in which said data could be useful is through aggregated, anonymized location data, per the report’s sources. No matter the assurances to the contrary, it’s natural to be suspicious of any widespread effort to collect personal data…specially when it has historically been the case that in times of extreme duress, people have made trade-offs about personal freedoms and protections that have subsequently backfired. Also…when has the government (or a business) ever voluntarily given up collecting your info?

Facebook created a giant flap for itself yesterday when an algorithm and some AI of there’s went rogue, and began deleting real news items people had posted. The items came from sources like Business Insider, Buzzfeed, The Atlantic, The Times of Israel, and USA Today! Businessinsider.com reports that Facebook had sent most content moderators home in compliance with the Bay Area shelter in place dictate, and the moderators are not able to moderate content from home due to privacy issues. Facebook, under pressure, finally admitted they had an issue, but denied it was due to the temporarily reduced workforce. In a tweet, VP of Integrity Guy Rosen said: “We’re on this – this is a bug in an anti-spam system, unrelated to any changes in our content moderator workforce. We’re in the process of fixing and bringing all these posts back.”

The US has temporarily waived HIPAA rules to allow doctors to use FaceTime to see patients during the coronavirus pandemic. Cnet.com says that Zoom for Healthcare and Skype for Business were already HIPAA compliant. Also included in the relaxed rules are Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, and regular Skype. Public facing platforms such as Facebook live, Twitch, and TikTok are still not allowed.