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Saturday, March 14, 2020

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News


How big tech is taking on COVID-19

Posted: 14 Mar 2020 04:45 PM PDT

Over the past week, one thing has become painfully clear for U.S. residents: COVID-19 is going to permeate every aspect of our lives for a long time to come. Those of us in and around tech have been noticing this for months now. First through the impact on our friends and colleagues in Asia, who have been facing fallout from the pandemic head-on for some time, and then through the domino effect on tech conferences.

First there was MWC, then Facebook's F8, E3, WWDC. The list goes on and on. Yesterday, TechCrunch announced that we would be postponing a pair of our own events. It was the right thing to do, and increasingly not really a choice, to be honest, as more and more cities have banned large gatherings.

Tech has been keenly aware of COVID-19’s impact for a while now because being a tech company is being a global company almost by default. Now, however, the virus's threat has come to nearly everyone's back door. If you don't yet know someone who has been infected with the virus, odds are good you will soon. This is our reality, for now, at least.

If there's hope to be mustered from this event, it's in the prospect of people helping people. Coming together, separately, at a safe social distance. The response of the current administration leaves much to be desired at the moment. As yesterday's press conference involved praise of the "private sector" and a parade of high profile executives, the reality is that many of us may have to rely on corporates and execs to help fill in the gaps of gutted government departments.

There will be plenty of time to call out the inevitable opportunism of corporate America (and it looks like I'm going to have a lot more free time on my hands in the coming months to do exactly that), but for now, let's note some of the folks who are pitching in by donating supplies or easing some of the burden on a strained and uncertain population.

Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma today released a statement noting plans to donate 500,000 test kits and one million face masks. The donation follows similar ones to Japan and Europe, following the devastating impact on his own country.

“Drawing from my own country’s experience, speedy and accurate testing and adequate personal protective equipment for medical professionals are most effective in preventing the spread of the virus,” Ma said in a statement. “We hope that our donation can help Americans fight against the pandemic!"

Yesterday, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan announced that his video conferencing platform would be available for free to K-12 schools in Japan, Italy and the U.S. The move comes as the service is seeing a massive spike in downloads as many businesses and schools are attempting to adapt to working and learning remotely.

Earlier this week, Bill Gates, who recently left his position on Microsoft's board, announced the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was teaming up with Wellcome and Mastercard to fund treatments to the tune of $125 million. Yesterday, Facebook announced it was committing $20 million in donations to support relief efforts. Apple announced a similar $15 million in donations, along with letting customers skip the March payment on their Apple Cards without risking interest payments. IPS like AT&T, Charter, CenturyLink, Comcast, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and Cox, meanwhile, have promised not to overcharge, charge late fees or terminate service, in an attempt to keep people connected.

Likely we'll continue to see more such announcements in the coming weeks and months as companies struggle with impact to their workforces and bottom lines. Some will no doubt be more crass that others, but there's little doubt that such gestures will be a big part of our ability to emerge from one of the scariest and most surreal moments in recent memory.

Apple sets restrictions for COVID-19-related apps

Posted: 14 Mar 2020 01:06 PM PDT

Apple today put in place more COVID-19-related safeguards — this time centered on its App Store. In a note posted to its developer community, the company explains that it will take steps to vet submissions of apps focused on the global pandemic that has begun to impact nearly every aspect of life across the globe.

"To help fulfill these expectations, we’re evaluating apps critically to ensure data sources are reputable and that developers presenting these apps are from recognized entities such as government organizations, health-focused NGOs, companies deeply credentialed in health issues, and medical or educational institutions," the company explains. "Only developers from one of these recognized entities should submit an app related to COVID-19."

In addition to assessing content and restricting the number of developers who can submit, the company is also barring the release of entertainment apps and games looking to capitalizing on the ubiquitous and life-threatening subject matter.

Apple has also asked developers to tick the "Time-Sensitive Event" option, in order to help expedite the submission, given that some may be aimed at helping users in time of crisis. The company will also be waiving some annual membership fees for non-profit orgs and government agencies looking to develop apps related to the outbreak.

A cursory search of "COVID" and "coronavirus" finds a number of apps using the terms, ranging from case trackers, news applications, a reminder to wash hands and some gaming titles.

Original Content podcast: ‘Devs’ is a strange and delightful technothriller

Posted: 14 Mar 2020 11:31 AM PDT

Given its name, you might expect “Devs” — which launched earlier this month on the new FX on Hulu — to be a “Silicon Valley”-style sitcom about the tech industry. And there are indeed some delightful moments where “Ex Machina” writer-director Alex Garland pokes fun at San Francisco and tech culture.

But the prevailing mood is one of mystery and dread. The show takes place largely at a fictional quantum computing company called Amaya, run by its brooding CEO Forest (played by Nick Offerman), which employs Lily (Sonoya Mizuno) and her boyfriend Sergei (Karl Glusman) . Amaya is also home to a division known as Devs — a group that’s mysterious enough that most employees don’t even know what the team is working on.

On the latest installment of the Original Content podcast, TechCrunch Events Director Emma Comeau joins us to discuss the three episodes that have aired thus far.

While it’s too early to evaluate how the show will answer its big questions, we’re all fans, thanks to its eerie visuals, impressive performances (particularly from Offerman and Mizuno) and the tantalizing way that it lays out its mysteries — during the spoiler discussion, we spent most of our time puzzling over clues about the ultimate goal of the Devs team.

And although the show is certainly tense, it’s actually something of a relief to spend a few hours worrying about sinister tech companies, rather everything else happening in the world outside.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro
3:26 “Devs” review (mild spoilers)
26:20 “Devs” spoiler review/speculation

Startups Weekly: Investors are excited to write checks during the pandemic

Posted: 14 Mar 2020 11:00 AM PDT

[Editor's note: Want to get this weekly review of news that startups can use by email? Just subscribe here.] 

Some startup investors are so uncertain about the current economic environment that they are hesitating to give us their forecasts on the record (this never happens). But others tell us they see the huge market gyrations and all the downstream effects of the novel coronavirus creating a great environment for long-term bets in the coming weeks. Why?

“Because with other investors departing the market, deal terms are getting better, the competition is less keen, [many investors] can do more due diligence and there are a lot of companies being built that have great growth prospects and are going to survive this global pandemic,” Danny Crichton detailed on Extra Crunch after calling around to his sources. “It's the VC equivalent of buy (actually) low and sell high.”

Founders should expect big haircuts on valuation (the 20-30% range), he concludes, but should find plenty of investors considering the explosion of VC funding in recent years — provided the company fundamentals show a path to long-term success. That’s what many other investors told Sarah Buhr on the record in a followup report.

Still trying to understand the economic big picture of the virus and its global impact? Danny teamed up with Alex Wilhelm to put together this primer on TechCrunch covering the last few months in the markets.

Looking to try remote-first fundraising? Natasha Mascarenhas talked to a range of VCs about how they are approaching deals through Zoom (hint: it’s mostly for early-stage investing, if at all).

On that point, the consensus from what our staff hears this week is that most investors are ultimately going to want to meet you in person before making the big decision, still. Because they’ll be working with their portfolios long after this pandemic lasts.

GettyImages 912948496

Image via Getty Images / alashi

Will the coronavirus lead to uncapped data for all? 

Some ISPs today are ready to temporarily ease pricing and lift data caps to avoid shutting the public off during emergencies — and they’re widely expected to do so without overloading their networks and destroying their businesses models. So, once the public sees that the large monopolies/duopolies in the biz can easily handle all of the additional traffic without the aggressive pricing scheme included, will they stand for going back to the old caps?

That’s the intriguing argument made in TechCrunch this week by Devin Coldewey, who believes that the pandemic may end up ushering in a more accessible and connected world for all. Indeed, at least one FCC commissioner is thinking about the same thing.

Zapier and YouNeedABudget share key tactics for the remote-first startup

“What we noticed was that product was getting shipped, customers seemed to be happy, more customers were coming in, revenue was coming in and the team was happy. All the things you kind of look for, to say ‘yeah, this is good…’ none of it seemed to be hindered [by the lack of office]. So we looked at that and said, ‘you know what? I think this remote thing… we should just do it.'”

That’s Zapier CEO Wade Foster sharing the backstory of how the web-app integration company has grown to 300 people. In a detailed interview on Extra Crunch with Greg Kumparak, he breaks down the evolution — and shows off an internal tool that they built to be like Slack, but for over weeks not minutes to help solve remote-first strategic communication problems. It’s called, fittingly, Async.

Greg also caught up with YouNeedABudget’s Jesse Mecham about his 115-person remote team. “You get talent,” was the big selling point to him. “You get the best talent. It's such a game-changer; we get to compete with large companies that have much larger hiring budgets because we accommodate peoples' locations. It's such a win for us, and I really hope the big… you know, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and the like, they have lots of different offices, but I really hope they never embrace being remote completely because it gives us smaller teams with less cash an opportunity to be appealing on a different factor as far as work/life balance goes. Yeah. It's the hiring, by far.”

We have more tips out this week, including a general guide to considering how to help employees make the remote transition, and a security guide for remote workers.

Stay tuned for ongoing coverage. TechCrunch’s editorial team has been remote-first all decade long, and we’ve been making it a focus as the industry moved in this direction overall more recently.

Yes, TechCrunch events are affected

For those who have been looking at attending our in-person events, and wondering what we’re gonna do….

  • TC Early Stage (San Francisco, originally April 28) has been rescheduled for July 21 at the Hilton Union Square.
  • TC Sessions: Mobility (San Jose, originally May 14) has been rescheduled for October 6 at the San Jose Theater.

Disrupt is still slated for September 14-16 in SF, too. But we are considering all the options that you can imagine we are considering.

However, we are actively accepting applications from startups for Mobility’s Pitch Night event.

We hope to see you in person later this year! See this page for regular updates to event plans based on the course of the pandemic.

Across the week

Extra Crunch

Edtech startups prepare to become 'not just a teaching tool but a necessity'

How to buy back your startup from a tech giant like WeWork

Why so many robotic startups fail, and what can be done about it

Dear Sophie: Should I marry, or immigrate based on my accomplishments?

Startup founders are building companies on WhatsApp

TechCrunch

All the startups threatened by iOS 14's new features

China Roundup: Enterprise tech gets a lasting boost from coronavirus outbreak

How the information system industry became enterprise software

Equity Monday: Circuit breakers, seed rounds and startup valuations

How the coronavirus outbreak will stress-test startups

#EquityPod

From Alex:

Here's what we went over:

White House now says pilot of coronavirus screening site will roll out Monday for Bay Area

Posted: 14 Mar 2020 10:53 AM PDT

After President Trump announced that the government was working with Google to build a coronavirus screening site that was at the core of the administration testing process, Google quickly corrected this and said that it was actually Verily, Alphabet’s health division, that was working on this and that the site wasn’t ready for a nationwide rollout yet.

Today, Vice President Pence provided a bit more detail, tough he didn’t removes all of the confusion around this. A pilot of this screening site will launch for the Bay Area on Monday, March 16, he said, and direct people to local drive-through testing sites if necessary.

He reiterated that the government is working with Google on this (though my guess is that the VP, just like most people, isn’t all that clear on the complicated company structure that is Alphabet) .

“I know Google issued a statement that they are planning to launch a website,” Pence said. “I think they gave a date of Monday, March 16th and we’re working literally around the clock and I know that our whole team is working on the public and private partnership. Couldn’t be more grateful to all at the hard-working people at Google who are helping to put this website together.” He added that the White House will have more to share about this tomorrow, Sunday, at 5pm ET.

Debbie Birx, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, noted that this is not just a simple “checkbox website” but that it actually goes through “critical symptoms and that’s why we’re giving ourselves the weekend to get it put up.”

Separately, the White House also told us that the administration is indeed working with Google to develop this site and most of this lines up with the statement we received from Verily yesterday. Hopefully, we’ll know more details after tomorrow’s briefing.

Our earlier coverage:

NASA’s Orion spacecraft completes testing ahead of Artemis 1 Moon mission

Posted: 14 Mar 2020 10:46 AM PDT

NASA has completed the testing process meant to simulate performance in in-space conditions for its Orion crew spacecraft, developed by Lockheed Martin and designed to carry crew on the agency’s Artemis missions. The missions aim to return the next American man and deliver the first American woman to the surface of the Moon. It reportedly “aced” the tests according to NASA, which include thermal vacuum and electromagnetic interference performance checks.

Obviously, it’s not business as usual at NASA amid the ongoing coronavirus situation (it isn’t business as usual anywhere), but NASA still managed to finish up the testing it needed to do at its Glenn research facility in Ohio. Glenn is the site of world-leading testing facilities that simulate flight conditions, including wind tunnels and vacuum chambers, and Orion’s testing completion at the facility means it’s now ready to move on to NASA Kennedy and Florida.

It’ll fly to Kennedy aboard NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft, which is a specially-built cargo aircraft with an extremely wide body designed for the purposes of transporting larger-than-normal cargo just like the Lockheed-built Orion capsule.

LONG BEACH, CA – DECEMBER 09: The B-377-SGT, also known as the “Super Guppy Turbine,” sits at Boeing’s C-17 plant at Long Beach Airport on Tuesday. The Super Guppy is notable for its prominent forehead and enormous mid-section, as well as four turbine engines and propellers. The plane is operated by NASA and used to transport large cargo, such as components for the International Space Station. The Super Guppy’s last visit to Long Beach was during the Apollo missions.
///ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Slug: SuperGuppy.1210.jag, Day: Tuesday, December 9, 2014 (12/9/14), Time: 10:51:53 AM, Location: Long Beach, California – B-377-SGT, “Super Guppy Turbine” – JEFF GRITCHEN, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
(Photo by Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

NASA in general appears to be progressing with its preparations for both Artemis, as well as for other ongoing key programs like its Commercial Crew program, which will see privately operated rockets fly astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time.

It has taken additional precautions to ensure the health of its astronauts meant to fly on the first crewed Commercial Crew mission, however, and its NASA Marshall facility also announced today that it’s limiting access to “mission-essential personnel” after one staff member tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday night.

This startup got a meeting with Mark Suster by getting clever with Google ads

Posted: 14 Mar 2020 10:20 AM PDT

Startups have done some wild things to get the attention of VCs. In fact, Instacart founder Apoorva Mehta sent YC partner (at the time) Garry Tan a six-pack of beer through the service after missing the deadline for Y Combinator by two months.

Yesterday, the ingenuity of startups struck again.

Tadabase.io, an enterprise startup that offers no-code tools to help businesses automate their processes, has had an ad running that was… well, hyper targeted.

ProductHunt founder and WeekendFund investor Ryan Hoover discovered the ad and shared it on Twitter.

Hoover told TechCrunch he was Googling Mark Suster to facilitate an introduction between Suster and one of Hoover’s portfolio companies. Instead, he found a Google ad directed squarely at Suster from Tadabase.io.

“Mark Suster, you haven’t invested in nocode” read the paid listing. “Therefore, we put this ad here to get your attention. If you’re not Mark, please don’t click here and save us some money.”

I reached out to Suster, managing partner at UpFront Ventures, to see what he thought of the ad. He told me he “loved it” and has already contacted the CEO to set up a call for next week.

Whether this clever Google ad will result in an actual investment is yet to be determined. Also unclear: will Ryan Hoover get in on the deal?

I reached out to Tadabase founder and CEO Moe Levine via email to ask about the ad, how they went about targeting, and how he feels about his upcoming phone call next week. He hasn’t responded yet. I’ll update if/when he does.

UK and Ireland added to US travel ban amid COVID-19 concerns

Posted: 14 Mar 2020 10:19 AM PDT

In a press conference yesterday, featuring a parade of executives from companies like CVS and Target, Trump hinted at the possibility of adding the U.K. and Ireland to a growing list of countries banned from U.S. travel. During a followup presser today helmed by Presidential COVID-19 point person, Mike, Pence, the additions were made official.

The Vice President noted that the decision was made following "unanimous recommendation" from health officials. "The President has made a decision to suspend all travel to the United Kingdom and Ireland, effective midnight Monday, EST," Pence announced, adding, "Americans in the UK and Ireland can come home […] but they will be funneled through specific airports and processes."

Those are the usual caveats for the recent string of bans. In many cases, returning citizens have been subject to screenings to ensure that they're not harboring the virus. The moves are intended to reflect the spread of the virus.

"If you look at what was formally the main feeder of this outbreak. They have 80,000 cases but only 11 new cases and seven new deaths," immunologist Anthony Fauci said, following Pence. “Things have switched over from China now and that is what has switched over the travel restrictions. You will see a curve of how the coronavirus outbreak evolved…we've seen it already with China and we're starting to see it with Korea."

The U.K. and Ireland were previously spared from the 30 day European travel ban. The list previously included, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

This Week in Apps: WWDC goes online, coronavirus leads to more cancellations, sneaky spy apps exposed

Posted: 14 Mar 2020 08:55 AM PDT

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads in 2019 and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie's recently released "State of Mobile" annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren't just a way to pass idle hours — they're a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week we’re taking a look at several stories related to the coronavirus outbreak, including the cancellation of WWDC in San Jose, as well as other app industry events that are going online. We’re also discussing the iOS 14 leak, the exposure of Sensor Tower’s app network, a potential ban on TikTok for government workers and more.

Coronavirus Special Coverage

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are continuing to play out on app stores and across the industry. This week, we’re leading with these stories followed by the other — and yes, still important — news.

Apple finally cancels its WWDC event in San Jose

Homebound parents rejoice, Disney is releasing Frozen 2 on its streamer on Sunday

Posted: 14 Mar 2020 08:52 AM PDT

Late Friday night, Disney said that it would be making Frozen 2 available this Sunday, March 15.

The accelerated release date, a full three months ahead of its planned date, comes as all sorts of release schedules, premieres, and even entire new seasons of television shows are canceled or paused as Hollywood crafts its own response to the CoVID-19 outbreak.

"'Frozen 2' has captivated audiences around the world through its powerful themes of perseverance and the importance of family, messages that are incredibly relevant during this time, and we are pleased to be able to share this heartwarming story early with our Disney+ subscribers to enjoy at home on any device," said Disney’s new CEO Bob Chapek in a statement.

Disney (along with Fox, which it owns) has pushed back the release of anticipated films like the live action version of “Mulan”, the Marvel superhero movie, “The New Mutants”, and the Guillermo del Toro-produced horror film, “Antlers”.

Pushing up the release date on “Frozen 2” makes sense, given that Disney is now basically a television, streaming and gaming company — much like every other studio struggling to adapt to the need for social distancing is prompting movie theaters to either close or dramatically reduce their capacity. At the same time, there have been reports that Disney has had issues producing original shows and movies for its streaming service.

The company previously pushed up the streaming release date of “Avengers: Endgame” to coincide with the launch of Disney+.

Internationally, the company is making “Frozen 2” available on Disney+ in Canada, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand on Tuesday, March 17.

U.S. audiences wanting to watch the movie on Sunday will only be able to stream it in high def. Ultra HD video playback isn’t going to be available until Tuesday.

Apple is closing all of its stores outside of China until March 27

Posted: 14 Mar 2020 08:04 AM PDT

Apple will be closing all of its stores outside of China until March 27th.

In a statement on the company’s website attributed to Tim Cook, the company attributed the decision to lessons it had learned from its response to the outbreak in China, where the disease was first identified.

“What we’ve learned together has helped us all develop the best practices that are assisting enormously in our global response,” Cook wrote. “One of those lessons is that the most effective way to minimize risk of the virus’s transmission is to reduce density and maximize social distance. As rates of new infections continue to grow in other places, we’re taking additional steps to protect our team members and customers.”

The company committed to paying all of its hourly workers as if the stores were remaining open. It said it would also expand its leave policies to accommodate personal or family health circumstances caused by COVID-19 — including recovering from illness, caring for someone infected, mandatory quarantining or childcare challenges due to school closures.

The company reached $15 million in donations to COVID-19 response efforts and said it will be matching employee donations two-to-one to support response efforts, locally, nationally, and internationally.

“The global spread of COVID-19 is affecting every one of us,” Cook wrote. “At Apple, we are people first and we do what we do with the belief that technology can change lives and hope that it can be a valuable tool in moments like this.”

White House and House Democrats agree to funding package for paid sick leave, funding for tests

Posted: 13 Mar 2020 07:08 PM PDT

Late Friday night, after nearly two full days of negotiations, the House of Representatives is finally set to pass a bipartisan plan to provide sweeping new benefits to workers and businesses affected by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the U.S.

The new bill will offer paid sick leave, stronger unemployment benefits, free virus testing and more money for food assistance and Medicaid and was approved only after 13 phone calls between the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, according to a report in The New York Times.

After its approval this evening, the Senate will have to vote to approve the measure early next week before it can be signed into law by President Trump.

While stocks rose sharply after the President’s address, delaying the bill could cause further economic uncertainty and continue what has been a wild couple of months for financial markets beset by barrage of bad news and stopgap measures designed to boost the economy, but failing to address the actual pressures impacting global markets (driving people to invest in stock markets doesn’t solve the financial shock that stems from an economy grinding to a halt in response to a national epidemic).

As cities and states encourage (or in some cases mandate) social distancing and self-quarantines as a response to limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, huge swaths of America’s service sectors will be affected.

That applies to startups like the retail chains b8ta and Neighborhood Goods, the beauty brand, Glossier, the Los Angeles-based arcade chain for the new millennium, Two Bit Circus; and the most celebrated of the direct to consumer startups, Warby Parker.

It’s also a factor for gig and sharing economy companies like Postmates, Instacart, Lyft, Uber, Airbnb and others — companies which were venture capital darlings for their novel approach to excess resources (be it cars, spare time, or space).

These companies have already faced criticism from lawmakers on Capitol Hill over their compensation practices for workers who may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Hitting pause on America’s shopping and dining in malls and restaurants, entertainment in bars, theaters, concerts, and at plays, and the closure of public spaces, along with work-from-home policies that reduce foot traffic to local businesses or retail chains in business districts will hit low-income workers and hospitality staff, who don’t have paid-time-off or at risk of losing their jobs as business slows.

Those social distancing measures are also one of the best chances cities have to slow the spread of the virus, according to most experts. And paid time off has been shown to reduce the spread of disease, according to the New York Times report on the bill’s passage.

“Today, we will pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act after reaching an agreement with the Administration,” Speaker Pelosi wrote on Twitter. “This legislation builds on the action that House Democrats took last week to put #FamiliesFirst with our strong, bipartisan $8.3 billion emergency funding package.”

 

Amazon cancels re:MARS 2020 event amid COVID-19 outbreak

Posted: 13 Mar 2020 05:45 PM PDT

Amazon has canceled re:MARS 2020, an annual AI event that focuses on machine learning, automation, robotics and space, over concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. The event was scheduled to be held June 16 to 19, 2020 in Las Vegas.

Organizers of the event said in a statement on its website that the event will be cancelled and guests who purchased tickets will receive a full refund. Here’s the statement:

Thank you for your interest in re:MARS 2020. Our top priority is the well-being of our employees, customers, partners, and event attendees. We have been closely monitoring the situation with COVID-19, and after much consideration, we have made the decision to cancel re:MARS 2020. All guests who have purchased tickets will receive a full refund of registration fees. Hotel rooms booked through our conference website will be canceled free of charge. Over the course of the coming weeks, we will explore other ways to engage the community.

Amazon launched re:MARS in 2019 and last year featured founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, Landing AI founder and CEO Andrew Ng, actor and producer Robert Downey, Jr., MIT Media Lab researcher Dr. Kate Darling and Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert, and Zoox CEO Aicha Evans, among others.

COVID-19, a disease caused by a new virus that is a member of the coronavirus family and a close cousin to the SARS and MERS viruses. COVID-19 has caused governments and companies to cancel tech, business and automotive events around the world, including the NCAA March Madness basketball tournaments, professional sports games in the NBA  and NHL, the Geneva International Motor Show, MWC in Barcelona and the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. Disneyland and California Adventure will close through the end of the month. On Friday, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency, a designation that allows the government to free up more federal resources that states can access as they respond to outbreak.

Amazon issued guidance Thursday in response to the COVID-19 outbreak recommending that global employees who are able to work from home to do so through the end of March.

"We continue to work closely with public and private medical experts to ensure we are taking the right precautions as the situation continues to evolve," an Amazon spokesperson said in an email statement. "As a result, we are now recommending that all of our employees globally who are able to work from home do so through the end of March."

Earlier this week, Amazon said it would provide two weeks of extra paid time off for full and part-time employees who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed into quarantine. The company said it will continue to pay all hourly employees, including food service, janitorial and security staff, who support its offices around the world.

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