The economy is faltering. The spying opportunity of the Tech Giants.


SAN FRANCISCO – Even as Facebook this month tackled an internal revolt and a cascade of criticism over its refusal to act on President Trump’s incendiary messages, the social network was actively making other behind-the-scenes bets.

Late tuesday, when attention was focused on how Facebook could handle Mr. Trump, the Silicon Valley company said in a brief blog post that it had invested in Gojek, a “super app” in Southeast Asia. The deal, which gave Facebook a bigger footing in the fast-growing region, followed a $5.7 billion investment it recently pumped into Reliance Jio, a telecommunications giant in India.

The moves were part of a spending frenzy by the social network, which also spent $400 million last month to buy a lively GIF company and is spending millions of dollars to build an undersea cable of nearly 23,000 miles fiber optic encircling Africa. On Thursday, Facebook confirmed that it was also developing a venture capital fund to invest in promising start-ups.

Other tech giants are adopting similar behavior. Apple bought at least four companies this year and released a new iPhone. Microsoft has purchased three cloud computing companies. Amazon is in talks to acquire a standalone vehicle start-up, has leased more planes for delivery and has hired an additional 175,000 people since March. Google has unveiled new messaging and video features.

“I’ve always believed that in times of economic downturn, the right thing to do is to continue to invest in building the future,” Facebook CHIEF executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a call to investors last month. “When the world changes rapidly, people have new needs, which means there are more new things to build.”

By doubling growth in these difficult economic times, the largest technology companies are continuing their trend. In previous recessions, those who invested when the economy was most vulnerable often appeared stronger. In the 1990s, IBM took advantage of a recession to reorient itself from a hardware company to a software and services company. Google and Facebook were both pulled out of the dot-com bust about 20 years ago.

Apple, whose iPhones now dominate computing, doubled its research and development budget for two years during the downturn of the early 2000s. This led the company, which nearly went bankrupt in the late 1990s, to create its iPod music player and iTunes music store – and finally the iPhone, the App Store and a frantic growth trend, said Jenny Chatman, a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

Ranjan Roy, a technology commentator for The Margins, an internet industry blog, said it was clear that tech giants weren’t afraid to be more aggressive now and that the power they were accumulating should give people a break.

“Without any backtracking from regulators, large technology companies would almost certainly emerge from the more powerful pandemic,” he said. “So many additional parts of our daily lives become dependent on their products, or they could simply buy or copy services they don’t yet provide.”

Still, companies are taking risks by spending in uncertain times, said John Paul Rollert, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

“Doubling and even tripling when the casino is on fire is a remarkable gesture, because they may not even be able to cash their chips later,” he said.

Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, which have refused or did not respond to requests for comment, have a lot of money. Together, they sit at the top of about $557 billion, allowing them to maintain a pace of acquisitions and investments similar to last year, when the economy was humming, according to a financial disclosure count. They have been among the largest business spenders in research and development for most of the past decade, according to PwC, the leading accounting firm.

Businesses have stepped up their operations since March, when orders for existing shelters began. Like Amazon, Facebook and others adapted to their employees working from home, they experienced a spike in usage. Messaging and other conference conferencing software have grown in popularity.

This has created opportunities. Microsoft, for its part, has begun promoting its Teams video conferencing service, which allows people to talk and collaborate online. Microsoft has also acquired three cloud computing companies in recent months — Affirmed Networks, Metaswitch Networks and Softomotive — to offer more technology to businesses.

Google, too, updated the products that people can use to work from home. In April, he said his video chat service, Google Meet, would be readily available inside people’s Gmail windows and free for anyone with a Google account. He also said he would start making ads in his mostly free shopping search results, instead of having traders pay for all their products to appear in the results, to strengthen e-commerce searches.

Apple, with $193 billion in cash and debt, has gone on its own buying frenzy. This year he bought DarkSky, a popular weather smartphone app; NextVR, a virtual reality company; Voysis, digital assistant and publisher of voice recognition software; And, an artificial intelligence start-up.

The company will soon hold a virtual developer conference and manages an increase in activity on FaceTime and iMessage as people use these services to communicate in quarantine.

  • Updated on 12 June 2020

    • What is the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and infecting with germs is usually not how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies on influenza, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory diseases, including the new coronavirus, can spread by affecting contaminated surfaces, particularly in places such as daycare centres, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events must occur for the disease to spread in this way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is always social distancing, hand washing, not touching the face and wearing masks.

    • Is the asymptomatic transmission of Covide-19 se product?

      So far, the evidence seems to show that he is doing it. A widely cited article published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were the result of transmission from people who did not yet show symptoms. Recently, a senior expert at the World Health Organization said that transmission of coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “rar,” but later retracted that statement.

    • How does blood type affect coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covide-19, the disease caused by coronavirus. Having type A blood has been linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs because of coronavirus in the United States?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists had expected. Economists had forecast that the unemployment rate would rise to 20 percent, after reaching 14.7 percent in April, the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate has instead fallen, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after the loss of more than 20 million jobs in April.

    • Will the protests trigger a second viral coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have taken thousands of people to the streets of America’s cities raise the spectre of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, doctors and public health experts to warn that crowds could lead to an increase in the number of cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to speak out, they urged protesters to wear masks and maintain their social distances, both to protect themselves and to prevent the spread of the virus by the community. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests took place outside, saying that outdoor environments could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How can we start exercising again without injuring ourselves after months of confinement?

      Researchers and exercise doctors have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to get back to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev your workouts, also slowly. U.S. adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the start of home assignments in March than in January. But there are steps you can take to make it easier for you to return to regular exercise safely. First, “start with no more than 50 percent of the exercise you did before Covide,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the head of musculoskeletal medicine at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t exercised, you lose muscle mass.” Expect a few muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or growing pain during exercise is a bugle call to stop and go home.

    • My condition is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are slowly reopening. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more companies are allowed to open again. The federal government largely leaves the decision to the states, and some state leaders leave the decision to local authorities. Even if you’re not told to stay home, it’s still a good idea to limit outdoor travel and your interaction with other people.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and clogged sinuses are less common. C.D.C. also added chills, muscle aches, sore throats, headaches and a new loss of sense of taste or smell as symptoms to watch out for. Most people get sick five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms can appear in as little as two days or up to 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself by flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most importantly, wash your hands often and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. An Emory University study found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is through a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfectant wipes to clean hard surfaces in your seat such as the head and arm rest, seat belt buckle, remote control, screen, seat back pocket and tray table. If the seat is hard and not porous or leather or folding, you can wipe this down, too. (Using wipes on padded seats could result in a wet seat and the spread of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Do I have to wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a change in federal guidelines that reflect new concerns that coronavirus is spreading to infected people who have no symptoms. So far, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people do not need to wear masks unless they are sick and cough. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continued shortage. Masks are no substitute for hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you have been exposed to coronavirus or think you have a fever or symptoms such as coughing or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

Facebook’s activity was most pronounced. When the coronavirus swept across the United States in March, the social network was inundated with people flocking to its apps to use voice chat and video services. Zuckerberg said Facebook was “just trying to keep the lights on.”

But the company quickly capitalized on the momentum. Zuckerberg accelerated the construction of some products by introducing Messenger Rooms, a group video chat service, in April.

The same month, Facebook said it was taking a $5.7 billion stake in India’s Reliance Jio. It was the company’s largest investment in an outside company, giving it better access to one of the world’s fastest growing digital markets.

“We are committed to connecting more people in India with Jio,” Facebook said of the deal, noting that Jio had put more than 388 million people online in less than four years.

Last month, Facebook bought GIF Giphy for about $400 million. Giphy needs to be integrated into Instagram, the photo-sharing app owned by Facebook. And last week, the social network invested millions in Gojek. Headquartered in Jakarta, Indonesia, Gojek manufactures an application for digital payments, transportation and other services that is used by more than 170 million people in Southeast Asia.


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