Posts from Current Affairs

Covid Alert NY

I’ve written a bunch about Exposure Alerting and its potential to limit the spread of Covid by alerting people when they have come in contact with someone contagious.

Back in April, Google and Apple came together to create GAEN, a framework for secure and private proximity data sharing on mobile phones.

In July, the Linux Foundation open-sourced two code bases that operate on top of GAEN for public health authorities around the world to build mobile apps with.

And yesterday, NY State launched Covid Alert NY that was built on those open source code bases. Covid Alert NY was built by the NYS Dept. of Health and Tech:NYC (where I am Chairman), along with Google, Apple, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Goldman Sachs, and a coalition of technology and research partners.

Here’s how Covid NY works:

  • Phones that have downloaded the app are assigned a random ID that can be exchanged with other phones via Bluetooth technology.
  • Devices that are within six feet of each other for 10 minutes or longer exchange those random IDs.
  • If a person tests positive and reports it on the app, an alert goes out to those with whom they had close contact alerting them of potential exposure.
  • The app also serves as a resource hub of daily case count numbers and informs users of the steps they can take to prevent further virus spread.

And it’s designed to work by placing privacy first:

  • It uses secure Bluetooth technology, not GPS, that can only detect when two devices are in proximity to each other, not geographic location. It doesn’t collect users’ data on their location or movement.
  • The random ID assigned to your device changes every 15 minutes, and users are not identified to other users, nor is their personal identifiable information shared — not with other users, Google, Apple, or the NYS Department of Health.

I hope that all NYers download Covid Alert NY to their phones and participate in a voluntary network of exposure alerting. This alone will not end the pandemic, but it can slow the spread of the virus by letting people know when they might be contagious and encouraging them to isolate and get tested. Imagine if we had this technology widely deployed back in January and February?

I downloaded Covid Alert NY to my phone this morning and am now participating in this voluntary exposure alerting network. You can join me by downloading Covid Alert NY to your phone:

App Store (for iPhone)

Google Play (for Android)

#Current Affairs#NYC

The Trifecta

A trifecta in horse racing is when you accurately predict win place and show. It is when you get three bets correct.

We’ve had the opposite happen in 2020. We’ve had three things go wrong at the same time.

As my friend David Steinberg said to me last month, we are witnessing 1918 (pandemic) plus 1929 (economic crisis) plus 1968 (racial crisis) all at the same time.

Of course they are related. The economic crisis was brought on by the pandemic. And the racial crisis has been made worse by both.

At some point, the pandemic will ease. I am hopeful that behavior change (mask wearing, social distancing, self quarantining, etc) combined with rapid and inexpensive testing will help contain the spread of the disease while we wait for the therapies and vaccines which will eventually eradicate it.

But when the pandemic is over, we will still have the economic and racial crises to reckon with. And reckon with them we must. The financial markets suggest that the reckoning will be easy and painless. I’m less sure of that.

As I wrote about a few days ago, our public sector budgets have massive holes in them. The inequities that have come to the fore in the racial crisis cannot be swept under a rug. I believe we are in for a lot of change and a lot of pain in the wake of this trifecta and there is no escaping it.

I also believe, as I wrote last week, that this painful period of change can lead us to a better place. But that will take time, energy, and capital to achieve and it won’t come easy.

#Current Affairs

Instant Covid Tests

We are now approaching five months into the Covid pandemic in the US. The world is more like six or seven months in. And while we wait for vaccines and/or therapeutics to end it, we are left with social distancing, mask wearing, testing, and tracing. These tools can and do work well if used rigorously and ubiquitously.

As we prepare to return to NYC in the fall, I am curious about the state of small and portable diagnostic technologies that can deliver an accurate and “real time” result cost effectively. I am thinking of something like a pregnancy test.

There are many things that would benefit from such tests. Schools could be more agressive about re-opening if everyone (teachers and students and staff) could be tested every morning on the way in the door. Offices could re-open too. So could stores and other local businesses.

And it would be easier to go see friends and family if you arrive at their front door with a test in hand and get a negative result before walking in the door.

I know that there are a number of companies working on such tests. What I don’t know is the status of these efforts, how soon they can come to market, and what they will cost. The less expensive the better obviously.

If you know anything about these technologies, please hit the “Discuss On Twitter” button below and share it with all of us. If you want to see what has been shared, hit the “View Discussions” button. If you are reading via email, go here to see these buttons and hit them.

#Current Affairs

Repost: Open Up Vs Break Up

I was in a board meeting for most of yesterday so I did not watch the theatrics on Capitol Hill. William told me that there were many calls for breaking up the big tech companies. So I thought I would repost this which I wrote about a year ago.


There have been many calls to break up the large Internet monopolies; Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.

Breaking up a large monopoly feels like a very 19th/20th century move to me.

I would prefer that politicians and policy makers think about opening up as the better intervention.

A good way to explain this is to go back to the architecture that Twitter used in its early days when there were many third-party Twitter clients. Imagine if Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc were protocols, not applications, and there were many high-quality clients to participate in these networks.

Then the clients could innovate on things like content filtering, promotion of high quality content, business model, etc

If we are going to “break up” these large social media platforms, I would urge elected officials and regulators to think about pushing them to move from platforms to protocols instead of just ripping them apart.

We could do the same thing with search. Our portfolio company DuckDuckGo has built a nice search business by building a different user interface on top of one of the two leading search indexes. If we made it easier and reliable for others to innovate on top of the core search engine, then there might be many more options in search.

In mobile, a good first step is to open up the app stores and allow the browsers to have the same access to the operating system as native mobile apps.

In commerce, if I could checkout as easily everywhere as easily as I can on Amazon, there would be more competition for my shopping dollars.

I think you get the idea. It is very true that the big Internet services have built centralized monopolies and have consolidated their market positions. We do need more competition in these core services. And the best way to do that is to force them to open up their services, not break them up.

#Current Affairs#policy#Politics

Open Source Exposure Alerting Apps

The Linux Foundation announced its Linux Foundation Public Health initiative yesterday.

They are starting with two open-source exposure alerting apps called Covid Shield and Covid Green. These are two apps that use the Google Apple Exposure Notification (GAEN) infrastructure. The codebase for both apps has been open-sourced.

The Linux Foundation had this to say:

“To catalyze this open source development, Linux Foundation Public Health is building a global community of leading technology and consulting companies, public health authorities, epidemiologists and other public health specialists, privacy and security experts, and individual developers,” said Dan Kohn, LFPH general manager. “While we’re excited to launch with two very important open source projects, we think our convening function to enable collaboration to battle this pandemic may be our biggest impact.”

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/tech-leaders-and-health-authorities-from-around-the-globe-collaborate-to-combat-covid-19-301096039.html

Countries, states, public health organizations, etc can build on these open source code bases to create exposure alerting and other apps that can help with the Covid pandemic and potentially other public health issues going forward.

I quite like how this is playing out. Google and Apple have built the base level infrastructure, the open source community is coming together to build the application level code base, and governments and public health organizations can take all of that and put applications into the market.

I am hoping we will see applications built this way coming to market in the near future.

#Current Affairs#mobile#Web/Tech

Doubling Up

Regular AVC readers may have noticed that after blogging about my once a day routine, I posted twice yesterday.

What happened is that I had been planning on blogging about Summer Bridge, a project we’ve been working on for the last few months, first thing Monday morning after the July 4th holiday.

But when I woke up, I had a DM from my friend Jonathan with some data about the content on AVC over the years and got excited to share it and did.

A colleague reminded me about doing the Summer Bridge post and so I published as planned mid-morning.

For those that may have missed my post about Summer Bridge, it is a new youth summer employment program for the neediest kids in NYC. It is a virtual/remote internship program that runs most of the month of August. The City and State are providing the stipends and companies provide remote “workplace challenges” for the kids.

USV is planning a workplace challenge around finding interesting startups working to address the climate crisis. I am excited to work with our teenage interns on that project next month.

If your company wants to work on an interesting problem with inner-city youth this summer, please consider participating in Summer Bridge. You can sign up here.

#Current Affairs#NYC

NYC Tech Companies: Please Consider Participating in Summer Bridge

NYC’s Summer Youth Employment Program is the nation’s largest youth employment program, historically connecting NYC’s neediest young adults (between the ages of 14 and 24) with a paid work experience every summer. The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into it this summer and it was canceled. In response, the City and State and over 50 nonprofits have come together to design the Summer Bridge program for summer 2020. Summer Bridge will provide low-income NYC students with City and State-funded professional workplace experiences in the tech industry and beyond.  

Summer Bridge will provide summer internships to 35,000 young adults this summer.  Student interns will participate in workplace challenge projects for 10-20 total hours (2-4 hours per week for 4 weeks.) The program begins on August 3rd and finishes on August 28th.  Summer Bridge and its non-profit partners will match student interns with companies, compensate students with a stipend ($700-1000 for the summer), and manage day-to-day-student relationships.

We want the NYC tech sector to be a big part of Summer Bridge this summer. Please consider having your company involved. Here is our ask of your company:

  • Design a “workplace challenge” for students based on a real business need or problem in one of four areas: product, engineering, marketing, or design.  Tech: NYC is providing templates for these challenges.
  • Recruit employee volunteers to meet weekly with small groups (15-20 students) for hour-long virtual interactions. Ideally, each volunteer would see 2-3 groups a week.
  • Offer feedback to students at a virtual final workplace challenge presentation.

We hope your company will participate in Summer Bridge this summer. If you would like to participate, go here and sign up.

#Current Affairs#employment#NYC

Masks

I’m sitting outside of my favorite coffee shop sipping on a coffee and writing. I do this many mornings.

When I walked into the coffee shop this morning I was wearing a mask:

I counted all of the people in the shop waiting in line (six feet apart) and waiting for their coffees. There were twelve people in total, including two people behind the counter making coffee and taking payment.

Everyone in the store had a mask on and was wearing it properly.

That’s how it is and how is has been in that coffee shop since May 1st when we arrived here.

Wearing a mask is easy. I keep a bunch in my car and one in the pouch on my bike. It’s no big deal to put it on every time I go indoors anywhere other than our home.

I can’t think of anything simpler and more powerful that we can all do other than wearing a mask. I wear one proudly and I hope everyone else does to as long as the pandemic continues.

#Current Affairs

Working Virtually

Many of us have been working from home or some other remote location for over three months now. We have learned a fair bit about this approach to work and we have more to learn in the coming months. I don’t think we will be done with remote work until the pandemic is over.

It has taught me three conflicting things:

1/ I can be a lot more productive working remotely than many of us believed before the pandemic

2/ Those with kids at home don’t experience the same productivity boost

3/ I can’t wait to be back working together in person

On the first point, I am able to get a lot more done in a day working remotely than I am able to do in the office. I now regularly do days with ten to twelve meetings/calls/videos. I don’t think I was able to do that in the office.

I have also found it easier to find time for work that requires a lot of focus (writing/modeling/analyzing/etc).

And I’ve been much better at keeping my inbox and other communications up to date and current.

And I can do all of that while making time to go biking, do yoga, meditate, etc.

It is a revelation to me how productive I can be working remotely, particularly when our entire team is doing the same.

All of that said, my friends and colleagues with kids at home have not experienced the same productivity boost. They get some of the benefits of working from home, but they also face distractions, double duty, and more. If we cannot reopen schools in the fall, it is going to be a very challenging time for parents.

It is also the case that I miss the feeling of being together with my colleagues. Today we will spend four to five hours on Zoom in our weekly team meeting. It is way more enjoyable doing it in person around our conference table.

Reconciling these conflicting realizations will be the key to what happens when the pandemic ends. I am certain that we will all want to retain some of the convenience and productivity that comes with working remotely. But I am equally certain that we will want to work together again.

#Current Affairs#management

Funding Friday: Checking In On The $1k Project

I wrote about this project to financially support people who were laid off because of the Covid pandemic back in early April. We also participated in the project and supported a family in the NY metro area back then.

I saw this tweet yesterday:

$1mm in funding, almost 350 families supported, in ten weeks. That’s terrific.

If you want to participate, you do so here.

#crowdfunding#Current Affairs