Privacy in times of coronavirus

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As entire economies move online, crime has followed and put cybersecurity into overdrive. 

Zoom is case and point. On Thursday, video-conferencing platform Zoom acquired its first company in its history, Keybase, a security startup that will help Zoom offer end-to-end encryption to paid users in the near future, according to a blog post by Zoom CEO Eric Yuan. 

The acquisition comes as critics have aired multiple security issues around the company, from Zoom bombings, to strangers jumping into meetings, to issues with data sharing—leading governments and schools to ban the product. In response, Zoom initiated a 90-day-plan to fix its security flaws, with the most recent buyout as a part of that roadmap to create a “truly private” platform.

In the blog post about the acquisition, Yuan largely focused on what Keybase could mean for the future of Zoom, putting Keybase’s future as a company into itself on the sidelines. Which makes sense: For the many, encryption and cybersecurity is that necessary but unseen part of the office and is less important than flat out knowing if your 12-year-old’s digital class could be inundated with porn. But security is now front-and-center in the context of coronavirus, as we as a society consider how to rollout things like contact tracing while still maintaining some semblance of privacy.

Per my colleague, David Z. Morris on the acquisition: “The type of secure and private digital technology Keybase is focused on could also be significant in the fight against the coronavirus. Many plans for reopening the economy include contact tracing to help slow the spread of the virus, but some solutions could also threaten user privacy. Privacy-protecting contact-tracing infrastructure currently in development by Apple and Google relies on encrypted communication systems similar to those used by Keybase—and, soon, Zoom.” Read more.

Amazon vs. Facebook vs. Walmart: Everyone appears to be on the hunt for the next Alibaba of India. On Thursday, tech-focused private equity firm Vista Equity Partners invested $1.5 billion in Jio Platforms, an Indian telecom and ecommerce company, following on a $5.7 billion investment from Facebook and a $750 million infusion from Silver Lake. Facebook’s investment in Jio in particular underlines the social media giant’s push into retail in India: As part of a partnership with Jio, Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging platform now allows users to buy goods from mom-and-pop shops in India. Meanwhile, Amazon, which has already made investments in India, is also reportedly in talks to acquire a larger stake in Future Retail, a struggling Indian retailer. And don’t forget Walmart’s $16 billion bet on Flipkart.

Quayside falls by the wayside: Alphabet abandoned controversial plans to build a “smart city” in Toronto as part of its Sidewalk Labs arm, the company revealed. In a Medium post, Sidewalk Labs CEO and Founder Daniel Doctoroff cited the current economic uncertainty that’s settled into the Toronto real estate market—though the project had long been on rocky grounds even before the coronavirus pandemic. While the project envisioned a more eco-friendly and tech-heavy city of the future, concerned and vocal citizens saw an already much-too-large tech giant out to grab their data.

Lucinda Shen
Twitter: @shenlucinda

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