rThe coronavirus pandemic continues to engulf the globe — both in the literal sense of the virus spreading, and in the figurative sense as more countries enact stringent measures and citizens stock up on vital goods preparing for a long sit-in. So what are the big tech companies doing to mitigate the effects of the illness on society, especially as many countries and companies encourage citizens to stay home and work from home if at all possible?
As social distancing becomes a primary way of protecting oneself, social media has become even more important as a way of disseminating news and promoting contact between friends. Several social media companies are taking steps to help limit the spread of harmful misinformation and outright falsehoods about the disease.
Facebook recently revealed it’s banning ads that guarantee a “cure” for the virus, and is trying to link people to reputable sources such as the World Health Organization and local resources. It’s also matching $20 million in donations and giving the WHO free ad space to get its message out.
On Instagram, meanwhile, the company is pinning a notice to the top of everyone’s feeds with a link to the reliable health sources, and it’s also banning any in-app effects related to the virus that’s not from a reputable health source. Twitter has a similar notice that appears if you search for coronavirus-related hashtags, in that case linking to a local health authority (such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for Americans). The latter is also attempting to remove tweets that suggest sickness conspiracy theories, and warns brands to be sensitive to the situation.
Amazon is trying to curtail the number of people who’re price gouging for necessary items like face masks, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. The company also joins the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft in encouraging employees to work from home. Amazon’s policy of two weeks of paid leave for already-infected employees has come under fire — especially since it came to light that employees of Whole Foods (which Amazon owns) were being encouraged to “donate” their paid time off to their sick coworkers.
In addition to switching its Worldwide Developers Conference over to an all-digital format, Apple is also attempting to curtail the spread of coronavirus misinformation by actively removing any apps that don’t come from official health organizations and governments. It’s also closing stores and avoiding AirPods and Watch try-ons in an attempt to limit human contact.
Like Apple, Google is also keeping any misinformation apps from appearing on the Play Store. It’s keeping fairly extensive Knowledge Panels with information on the virus pinned to the top of search results related to COVID-19, and is planning to launch a website in partnership with the US government that offers extensive information on the illness as well as local health resources. It’s also pledged to match donations amounting up to $7.5 million to benefit the WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.
Other companies are trying to spread the word on the virus’s infection and advise them on what to do. Microsoft has launched a coronavirus tracker on Bing that links to relevant local information in each country. Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian purchased a billboard in Times Square urging people to stay home in order to “flatten the curve.”
When it comes to travel, companies are generally discouraging it. Airbnb today revealed a no-questions-asked free cancellation policy for the next month, meaning anyone who cancels their reservations for any reason, no matter how close it is to the travel date, won’t be charged a fee. Uber also revealed this week it’s offering two weeks of financial assistance for drivers who are in quarantine for the virus. Grubhub, meanwhile, is putting a freeze on collection of its marketing fees from restaurants who are likely to lose business thanks to the lack of customers.
As you might expect, food delivery services are seeing a huge upswing in attention thanks to the number of people now choosing to stay home. Postmates has incorporated new contactless options into its app, while Instacart has added a “Leave at My Door Delivery” option for those limiting human contact during the pandemic. DoorDash and Grubhub have also encouraged users to leave drivers instructions that indicate they don’t wish to make face-to-face contact.
Many of the big tech companies are taking steps to make the current period of fear and social distancing easier on us, if only by making sure we have access to the correct information.
Errata: We erroneously addressed Alexis Ohanian as Reddit’s CEO; he is actually the company’s co-founder and executive chairman. We’ve updated this post to reflect that.