Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

As social distancing measure, Starbucks temporarily shifts to ‘to go’ model in US and Canada

Posted: 15 Mar 2020 03:48 PM PDT

Beginning today, Starbucks is instituting a temporary move to a "to go" model for all of its locations in the U.S. and Canada. One of the more sweeping actions taken by a major food chain, the coffee giant is looking to adhere to advice about social distancing among an exponential uptick in cases of COVID-19.

The model, which find the company closing down seating in its cafe and patio areas, will be in place for at least two weeks, according to the company. Instead, Starbucks will rely on its app for ordering ahead, drive thru in certain locations, walk up counter and delivery.

Locations in "high-social gathering locations" like schools and malls will temporarily be closed. Same goes for communities that have been hit with large clusters of COVID-19 cases.

"As we all know, the situation with COVID-19 is extremely dynamic and we will continue to review the facts and science and make the proactive decisions necessary to protect our partners, customers and communities," EVP Rossann Williams said in a statement. "Every community's needs are incredibly different. We want to make sure we play a constructive role by taking responsible actions, in partnership with the CDC and local public health authorities, so we can continue to do what's right for our partners and customers."

Earlier in the week CEO Kevin Johnson laid out some preemptive plans aimed at prioritizing “the health and well-being of our customers and partners while also playing a constructive role in supporting local health officials and government leaders as they work to contain the virus."

Trump says Google CEO Sundar Pichai called to apologize

Posted: 15 Mar 2020 03:05 PM PDT

At what is now a daily coronavirus press briefing at the White House, President Trump today said that Google CEO Sundar Pichai called him to apologize. What Pichai apologized for wasn’t immediately clear, but Trump then went on to praise Google’s communications team for supposedly substantiating Trump’s comments about Google’s coronavirus screening site.

“I want to thank the people at Google and Google Communications because as you know, they substantiated what I said on Friday,” said Trump. “The head of Google, who is a great gentleman — said — called us — and apologized. I don’t know where the press got their fake news, but they got it someplace. As you know, this is from Google [holds up printout of Google Communication’s statement on Twitter]. They put out a release [drops the paper on the ground] and you guys can figure it out yourselves and how that got out and I’m sure you’ll apologize. But it would be great if we could really give the news correctly. It would be so, so wonderful.”

We reached out to both Google and the White House for further clarification about this call. Update (4:20pm PT): Google says it doesn’t have anything to share about this call.

What is clear, though, is that Google and Alphabet CEO Pichai today posted an update to Google’s blog that outlines Google’s efforts. In it, Pichai clears up some of the confusion and describes the work the company is doing to get more information about the virus and COVID-19 to its users, as well as the work Alphabet’s Verily life sciences unit is doing to build a screening site for the Bay Area (and potentially for a nationwide rollout).

On Friday, Trump said 1,700 Google engineers were working on this screening site — though it is a Verily project that, as best we can tell, was never meant for a consumer rollout. Google never clarified how many people were working on its efforts, but it doesn’t take 1,700 engineers to build the site Trump described.

Here is what Trump said on Friday:

"I want to thank Google. Google is helping to develop a website. It's gonna be very quickly done — unlike websites of the past — to determine whether a test is warranted and to facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location. We have many, many locations behind us, by the way. We cover this country and large parts of the world, by the way. We're not gonna be talking about the world right now, but we cover very, very strongly our country. Stores in virtually every location. Google has 1,700 engineers working on this right now. They have made tremendous progress."

Google was clearly not ready for this public statement at the time. On Friday, we contacted them a few minutes after Trump made these comments. (Trump today said the media never called Google, which was flat-out wrong). It took Google’s Verily unit almost two hours to respond and note that Verily was working on a far more limited project than the one Trump described.

On Saturday, VP Pence clarified the situation a bit by saying that Google (or Verily – because who knows at this point) would have a pilot version of the screening site ready for a test in the Bay Area by tomorrow, Monday the 16th.

"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."

But what Google later clarified is that there are at least two different efforts here. Google’s work around bringing more information about COVID-19 to its users across its various services — and Verily’s efforts to launch a pilot website “that will enable individuals to do a risk assessment and be scheduled for testing at sites in the Bay Area.”

Today, to add a bit more confusion to this story, VP Pence said the government is working with “Google and many other tech companies,” including Google, Facebook and Amazon. At some point early in the week, there will be a website that will go up where people can fill out a questionnaire to see if they need a test. That is very much the site Trump described on Friday, but Pence didn’t clarify how much of a role Google is playing in this.

On Friday, Trump promised a nationwide website, developed by Google, that would be at the core of the government’s screening process. Google wasn’t ready for that announcement. The site didn’t exist yet. Even the limited version of that site, which wasn’t developed by Google, was ready and for the most part, a lot of us in the media probably now regret ever taking the president at his word. As of now, this is one of the most bizarre Google stories I’ve covered in recent years.

Now, it’d be great to hear more about what Pichai apologized for.

US slashes federal interest rates in response to the coronavirus pandemic

Posted: 15 Mar 2020 02:35 PM PDT

The Federal Reserve announced today that it has slashed interest rates as part of an effort to stabilize the economy following a rocky week on the financial markets.

The bank’s Board of Governors cut interest rates to near-zero, the second time that the central bank has cut interest rates in as many weeks. The Federal Reserve also launched a $700 billion quantitative easing (QE) program to help prevent a further economic downturn sparked by the spread of coronavirus.

A statement said the bank will maintain its interest rates “until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals.” The combination of interest rate cut and extensive QE will all but exhaust the Fed’s stimulus options going forward.

Stock futures for the major market indices are currently down about 5% Sunday evening.

It comes after a painful week across U.S. financial markets. On Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) dropped by just shy of 10% in the worst day of trading since 1987. A day later, the markets sharply rebounded.

President Trump also said on Sunday from the White House that Americans should “relax” and stop hoarding goods from stores, which are facing shortages as supply chains react to massively increased demand. Major online retailers like Amazon, Walmart and Target have reportedly run out of basic household goods, like toilet paper.

There are more than 142,000 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus strain globally, according to the World Health Organization’s latest situation report on Saturday, with some 3,300 confirmed cases in the United States.

The global pandemic has resulted in several countries, including Denmark and Poland, to shut their borders, and entire countries, like Italy and Spain, to go on lockdown, restricting the movements of its citizens in an effort to limit the spread of the virus.

Earlier on Sunday, U.K. authorities advised all British nationals and residents against all but essential travel to the United States.

News of the travel advisory came shortly before new U.S. travel restrictions are set to take effect on Monday night, effectively banning all travelers from Europe for 30 days — sparing only U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. The Trump administration later extended the ban to the U.K. and Ireland following a spike in confirmed infections.

American Airlines cuts long-haul international flights by 75%

Posted: 15 Mar 2020 10:56 AM PDT

American Airlines said it will suspend 75% of its long-haul international flights from the U.S., beginning March 16 in response to decreased demand and government travel restrictions put in place to lessen the spread of COVID-19.

American Airlines had already reduced its capacity. This latest move, which was announced Saturday evening, will slash international capacity 75% year-over-year. The suspended service will last through May 6, the airline said, adding that it will cut back on flights gradually over the next seven days to re-accommodate passengers and crew.

American Airlines said it will continue to operate one flight daily from Dallas-Fort Worth to London, one flight daily from Miami to London. It will also continue to fly three times a week from Dallas to Tokyo . American Airlines will also continue short-haul international flying, which includes flights to Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, Central America and certain markets in the northern part of South America. American Airlines said it anticipates its domestic capacity in April will be reduced by 20% compared to last year and May's domestic capacity will be reduced by 30% on a year-over-year basis.

Other airlines have reduced capacity, including Delta, Lufthansa and United. However, American Airlines’ actions surpass other reductions in service.

The reductions follow an executive order by President Donald Trump last week to ban non-U.S. citizens who are from or have recently been in China, Iran or 26 European countries from traveling to the United States for the next 30 days. The ban was extended on Friday to Ireland and the UK.

The Department of Homeland Security has also issued a Notice of Arrival Restrictions that requires American citizens, legal permanent residents and their immediate families who are returning home to the U.S. to travel through one of 13 airports upon arrival to the U.S., and then submit to an enhanced entry screening. They must then self-quarantine for 14 days once they reach their final destination, according to Homeland Security.

The 30-day travel ban does not apply to U.S. citizens or cargo.

UK is advising against all travel to the US amid the coronavirus pandemic

Posted: 15 Mar 2020 08:00 AM PDT

The U.K. government is advising citizens and residents against all travel to the U.S. in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a brief statement, the U.K. Foreign Office said it is “advising against all but essential travel to the USA,” a day after the U.S. government expanded its list of countries whose nationals are effectively banned from entering the U.S. to include the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The announcement by the U.K. authorities follows a move by the Trump administration to impose restrictions on foreign travelers entering the U.S. in an effort to help stem the number of infections of the coronavirus strain, COVID-19, which last week was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

The Trump administration initially initially spared the U.K. and Ireland from its 30-day European travel ban, which included France, Spain, and Italy — all of which this week saw massive increases in the number of citizens infected with the virus. But a day later, the U.K. and Ireland was also added to the list, with an effective ban on all U.K. and Irish travelers entering the U.S. beginning Monday night.

The Foreign Office said the restrictions go into effect immediately as of Sunday.

U.S. citizens — including dual citizens — and lawful permanent residents are exempt from the ban, but may be asked to self-isolate upon arrival for 14 days out of caution.

A Foreign Office spokesperson told TechCrunch by phone that despite one report, U.S. travelers will not be banned from entering the U.K. in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

SpaceX aborts launch attempt of sixth batch of Starlink satellites due to engine power issue

Posted: 15 Mar 2020 06:37 AM PDT

SpaceX was attempting to launch its sixth batch of Starlink internet broadband satellites, but the launch was aborted when the countdown timer reached zero. On the live feed of the launch, SpaceX engineers were heard to cite a “launch abort on high engine power,” and the announcer presenting the webcast said that it was indeed an abort related to Merlin engine power, and SpaceX later provided added detail, including that the sequence was auto-aborted by its system.

The announcer noted that the “vehicle appears to be in good health,” which SpaceX later confirmed, which should bode well for resetting for another attempt. SpaceX has a backup opportunity on Monday, but the actual next launch attempt is still to be determined, likely as SpaceX investigates and learns more about what exactly was behind the engine power issue and when it makes sense to try again, given conditions on the launch range.

This would’ve been a record fifth flight for the Falcon 9 booster used in this launch, as well as a first re-use of the fairing that protects the cargo. SpaceX has advised that it’ll reveal when it’ll make its net launch attempt once it can confirm those details, and we’ll provide that info once available.

Our infected machine

Posted: 15 Mar 2020 06:00 AM PDT

We are handling the first real global crisis since the Cold War with staggering incompetence. People are already dying en masse. We all need to stay home and stay away from one another. If we wait until those who can’t do math see the awful consequences all too visible to those who can, things will get colossally worse. It is already later than you think.

A few nations–Taiwan, South Korea–are responding with admirable competence and alacrity. People everywhere else have a lot to be extremely angry at. Especially in America, the theoretically wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world, which, it turns out, is completely incapable of handling a crisis that is neither military nor financial.

A pandemic is to a society as a month of heavy rain is to a roof. It will find all of your architectural flaws, papered-over cracks, and loose tiles; it will use them to spread and spread; and you only have so many buckets. The USA is like a palace whose owners chose to spend the last twenty years squandering their money on gaudy decorations and a home theater, rather than fixing its decrepit roof. Now a storm is hammering down.

None of this is news. We’ve all been witnessing America’s ongoing diminishment in real time for some years now. It’s easy to imagine this crisis marking its official decline into former-hyperpower status, while China assumes the global title of “most important nation.”

In in the meantime, pay no attention to the reported, so-called confirmed, numbers of Covid-19 cases in America. The real numbers are clearly much larger. We’re in a dark room, surrounded by an unknown number of monsters, unable – and apparently unwilling – to turn on the lights.

But let’s be optimistic. Suppose people come to their senses, and stop interacting with — and infecting — one another. Suppose the period during which hospitals are overwhelmed, and grandparents die in parking lots because there are no ICU beds left for them, is mercifully brief. Suppose we actually do manage to Flatten The Curve.

What then?

Previous, lesser crises have gone away by themselves. The 2008 financial crisis was, as Bruce Sterling observed at the time, something “we made up”: nothing about the world changed except our perception of it. The World Trade Center attacks were only a real crisis for those in Lower Manhattan that morning and their families. This, though, is likely to affect our collective way of life, and our economy, for a long time.

For most people, “the economy” is a giant treadmill of rent, bills, and paychecks, on which they must keep perpetaully running lest they be flung into an abyss. Social distancing right now is — and will remain, for an unknown period — critically important. But its implication is to say to everyone in travel, hospitality, retail, restaurants, nightlive, events, etc.: “You absolutely must stop running, right now, but of course we’re not turning that treadmill off for you. Don’t be ridiculous! We can’t even imagine what turning it off would look like.”

Things are better if you’re in tech … but not much better. Does your company count any travel, hospitality, retail, events, etc., companies or people as clients or customers? No? Well, do your clients and customers count any as their clients or customers? You won’t have to go very far before you realize: we’re all interconnected. Meaning: we’re all screwed. The whole treadmill starts breaking down if enough of us stop running.

So what would turning that treadmill off, or slowing it down, look like?

In the US, it obviously starts with universal healthcare. But there’s no reason to stop there. Think bigger. Imagine a six-month rent jubilee, on the grounds that property owners are more able than suddenly self-isolating renters to deal with the financial repercussions, and also better positioned to negotiate with governments for a subsequent bailout. Imagine giving people cash, whether you want to call it “special unemployment insurance” or “universal basic income.”

Imagine maybe even rebuilding the whole treadmill from scratch, into an entirely different machine.

We built it ourselves, after all; it was not handed down from Mount Sinai. Maybe we can fix it so that it encourages scientists and artists and engineers to start up truly new and better things, rather than more adtech and parasitical financial instruments. Maybe it can reward subway workers and teachers and farmers, rather than the throngs wasting their days in dreary, pointless, but better-paid “bullshit jobs” in offices everywhere.

But that’s all in the future. Right now we’re in a crisis. Stay home, cancel on your friends, wash your hands; flatten the curve. We can’t fix the treadmill after the fire is out, and the grim nature of fire is that if we wait to act until we feel ourselves burning, it will already be too late.

Watch SpaceX launch more Starlink satellites and go for a Falcon 9 re-use record

Posted: 15 Mar 2020 05:58 AM PDT

UPDATE: SpaceX aborted today’s attempt, and will reset for a future attempt at a time and date to be determined.

SpaceX is launching its latest Starlink mission today, with a takeoff time of 9:22 AM EDT (6:22 AM PDT) currently scheduled to take place at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch will carry 60 more Starlink broadband internet satellites to their low Earth orbit destination, using a Falcon 9 rocket with a booster that flew four times previously, including twice in 2018 and twice last year, most recently in November for another Starlink mission.

This launch will include a landing attempt for the Falcon 9 booster, meaning if all goes well SpaceX could recover it for a fifth time for an attempt at refurbishment and re-use. Five flights of a Falcon 9 booster would be a record for SpaceX – and the booster that it’s attempting this mission with is already a record-holder, since it achieved SpaceX’s existing high-water mark for re-use with its last November launch.

The primary mission is to deliver the sixth batch of 60 of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites to space, which will grow the total constellation size to 360. SpaceX plans to begin commercial operation of the constellation later this year if all goes well, providing high-speed, reliable broadband internet to customers in North America, with lower latency and better speeds than are available using existing satellite internet service, which depend on larger, geosynchronous satellites placed much farther out from Earth.

SpaceX will also be aiming to recover the two fairing halves used to protect the satellite cargo on this launch, using two ships stationed at sea that have large nets strung across struts extending from their surface. SpaceX has been attempting these recoveries in order to further increase the reusability (and reduce the cost) of launch but so far it hasn’t had much consistency in its success, catching three fairings in total. The fairing being used today flew before, too – during the May 2019 Starlink satellite launch.

The broadcast of the launch will begin above around 15 minutes prior to the target takeoff time, so at around 8:57 AM EDT (5:57 AM PDT).