A weekly summary of what I’ve found interesting at the intersection of economics, finance and technology.
Covid-19 Contact Tracing Apps Still Dominate the Technological Response
Apple and Google are forging ahead with their “exposure notification” system, as it’s now called. They demoed what an exposure notification app could look like (Read—The Verge), although these apps will be provided by health authorities, not by Apple and Google directly, so obviously the UI may vary. They also released the first seed of the API so developers can start working on said apps. This first seed is mainly to collect feedback from developers. Read (TechCrunch)
However, a study by the Washington Post and the University of Maryland finds that nearly 3 in 5 Americans say they are either unable or unwilling to use Apple and Google’s system. The whole system becomes ineffective if not enough people are using it, so this is a real issue. It would be interesting to see if this is specifically related to Google and Apple, in other words whether the same attitude exists towards government-backed apps, for example. The other interesting question is whether governments would be willing to make the use of such an app mandatory, and how that would play out. Read (Washington Post)
To add to the inauspicious start of contact tracing apps, the UN launched a “safe distancing” app (although its spokesperson seemed unaware of its existence), which turns out not to work, according to Vice’s Motherboard. This is obviously not likely to build the public’s confidence in the technological solutions to the crisis. Read (Vice)
Media Watchdog Poynter Institute Launched a Chatbot on WhatsApp To Debunk Covid-19-Related Hoaxes — This certainly appears necessary and it looks like a sound initiative. The problem would seem to be discoverability of course, I would love to see the engagement metrics on this. Perhaps it would be more effective if the bot could add a warning to hoax messages being forwarded on WhatsApp, but that may be on the wrong side of the “creepy” line, of course. Read (TechCrunch)
Belgian 3D Printing Company Materialise Hopes To Save Millions of Unusable Masks with an Adapted Frame — This kind of quick reaction is of course hard to imagine in a traditional manufacturing framework. By extension it offers a good example of how the Covid-19 crisis compresses adoption timelines, at scale, for many technologies that have been “the future” for years. Read (De Tijd)
This crisis also forces us to revisit seemingly minor behaviours that are not so obvious anymore — Case in point, Apple’s FaceID can’t deal with masks and often gets stuck trying to read your face. The upcoming iOS release will display the passphrase screen faster to minimise inconvenience. Read (Wired)
Bonus tip, in the current version of the OS, you can tap the “FaceID” text to immediately display the passphrase screen. I didn’t know this, and it helps. Read (MacRumors)
More broadly speaking, there will be myriad small changes like this to consider.
ICANN rejected a proposal by a shady private equity firm to buy the .org domains — A rare bit of good news. Read (Wired)
Ex-Apple exec Jean-Louis Gassee usually has sharp insights into industry trends and issues, and this take on the big shifts triggered by Covid-19 is no exception. Read (Monday Note)
That’s it for this week’s edition. As always, thanks for reading and please forward this to anyone who you think might be interested, it would be much appreciated.