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Big Tech Wants Points for Jobs

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This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.

Here’s one more way that technology companies are becoming more like conventional corporations: When they talk about jobs, it’s often a political message.

Google last week detailed its expansion of offices, computer data centers and staff around the United States. The company didn’t say so, but it needs more people, buildings and infrastructure to keep growing and making money. It’s smarter politics and public relations to rebrand it as “investing in America.”

Google is not alone. Amazon has turned its mammoth work force into its loudest political message that the company is helping Americans and the economy. The iPhone manufacturer Foxconn keeps promising high-tech jobs at its Wisconsin factory, even though it hasn’t delivered on three years of hiring promises. Facebook and Apple regularly talk about how they support small businesses and help generate jobs at app companies.

Growing corporations are engines of economic growth, and it’s nothing new for them to brag about what they’re doing for political reasons. Defense contractors might suggest to members of Congress that cutting the Pentagon’s budget could lead to fewer jobs in a lawmaker’s district or state. Walmart tallies how much it buys from American suppliers.

But it’s still odd to see tech companies playing this same game of corporate soft power. This was an industry that for a long time said it didn’t need to do the usual corporate muck of lobbying and courting political power. This was never really true, but it’s gotten even less so.

As more people and politicians worry about the influence of technology companies in the economy and our lives, digital corporations have been forced to try harder to keep people feeling warm and fuzzy about them. One way to do that is to copy what boring old companies have always done: Get attention for their hiring and growth.

Amazon is the epitome of a company that uses its hiring and economic growth as a tool to influence how others perceive it. My colleague Karen Weise has written about Amazon’s using its growing staff of 1.3 million people as a force of political persuasion.

Workers at Amazon warehouses go to Washington to meet with members of Congress and give lawmakers safety vests with the names of the company’s warehouses in their districts. Amazon regularly talks up its job openings and new warehouses and offices, and it has a website that tallies how much the company spends in the United States.

It’s a compelling message. Few companies in the history of the United States have hired people at the rate Amazon has recently. And many towns and states want Amazon facilities in their backyards — and politicians want credit for bringing those jobs to their area.

It’s also undeniable that all that spending is for Amazon, not for America. The company’s sales are growing fast, and its commitment to get more packages to Prime members’ doorsteps in one day has required it to add workers, open more depots near major population centers and spend more on planes and trucks.

The desire to paint corporate necessity in the best possible light sometimes creates strange spectacles. Apple in 2018 basically patted itself on the back for paying taxes and buying equipment to make iPhones.

Tech companies are becoming just like every other for-profit corporation. They want to be seen as contributing to society, not just making money.


Tip of the Week

This tip from Brian X. Chen, The New York Times’s consumer technology columnist, made me immediately check my phone settings:

Many of us rely on our smartphones for our everyday cameras. But our phones collect lots of data about us, and camera software can automatically make a note of our location when we snap a photo. This is more often a potential safety risk than a benefit.

Let’s start with the positives. When you allow your camera to tag your location, photo management apps like Apple’s Photos and Google Photos can automatically sort pictures into albums based on location. That’s helpful when you go on vacation and want to remember where you were when you took a snapshot.

But when you’re not traveling, having your location tagged on photos is not great. Let’s say you just connected with someone on a dating app and texted a photo of your dog. If you had the location feature turned on when you snapped the photo, that person could analyze the data to see where you live.

Just to be safe, make sure the photo location feature is off by default.

To do this on iPhones: Open the Settings app, select Privacy, then Location Services and finally, Camera. Under “Allow Location Access,” choose “Never.”

On Androids, inside the Camera app, tap the Settings icon that looks like a gear cog. Scroll to “tag locations” or “save location,” and switch the toggle to the off position.

You might choose to turn the location feature on temporarily to document your vacation, but remember to turn it off when your trip is over.


  • A very valuable chat app: My colleagues reported that Discord, a messaging app that is popular for group video games, has discussed selling the company to Microsoft. A sale may never happen, but the price that was discussed was more than $10 billion.

  • Meet Dr. Zoom: Some medical schools have held cadaver dissection by simulation software during the pandemic, and, yes, it’s as weird as it sounds. My colleague Emma Goldberg talked to physicians in training about how they’ve adapted to virtual learning in what is typically very hands-on education.

  • Want to feel old and irrelevant?! Ryan Kaji is 9. His family generates $30 million in annual revenue from YouTube channels of Ryan opening new toys, exercising and doing craft projects. His family told Bloomberg News that the real money from those videos comes from sales of related merchandise like branded toys and clothes.

It’s officially spring here in the Northern Hemisphere. Chill out to this stunning video of robins. (This was recommended by The New York Times Cooking newsletter.)


We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else you’d like us to explore. You can reach us at ontech@nytimes.com.

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How China’s Outrage Machine Kicked Up a Storm Over H&M

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Squirrel Video, a Weibo account dedicated to silly videos, shared the Communist Youth League’s original post on H&M with its 10 million followers. A gadget blogger in Chengdu with 1.4 million followers shared a clip showing a worker removing an H&M sign from a mall. A user in Beijing who posts about television stars highlighted entertainers who had ended their contracts with Adidas and other targeted brands.

“Today’s China is not one that just anyone can bully!” he wrote to his nearly seven million followers. “We do not ask for trouble, but we are not afraid of trouble either.”

A fashion influencer named Wei Ya held a live video event on Friday hawking products made with Xinjiang cotton. In her Weibo post announcing the event, she made sure to tag the Communist Youth League.

By Monday, news sites were circulating a rap video that combined the cotton issue with some popular recent lines of attack on Western powers: “How can a country where 500,000 have died of Covid-19 claim the high ground?”

One Weibo user posted a lushly animated video that he said he worked through the night to make. It shows white-hooded men pointing guns at Black cotton pickers and ends with a lynching.

“These are your foolish acts; we would never,” a caption reads.

Less than two hours after the user shared the video, it was reposted by Global Times, a party-controlled newspaper known for its nationalist tone.

Many web users who speak up during such campaigns are motivated by genuine patriotism, even if China’s government does pay some people to post party-line comments. Others, such as the traffic-hungry blog accounts derided in China as “marketing accounts,” are probably more pragmatic. They just want the clicks.

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NFTs Are Neither Miracles nor Scams

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Perhaps you find this confusing or silly. Push that aside for a minute.

Mostly, my beef about NFTs is how people, particularly those who live and breathe technology, talk about them and other emerging companies or concepts including the blockchain, the audio chatroom Clubhouse and ultra fast trains.

Almost immediately, people sort themselves into camps to declare that THIS WILL CHANGE THE WORLD or it’s TOTAL CODSWALLOP THAT WILL RUIN EVERYTHING. We would all benefit from more breath and less breathlessness.

In life, most things are neither glorious revolutions nor doom. And behind most novel ideas is often the possibility of something useful. The trouble is that hyperbole and greed often make it hard to sort the glimmers of promise from the horse manure. So let’s take a step back.

The purported big idea behind NFTs, as Kevin and Charlie Warzel, my colleague in Opinion, each explained this week, is to tackle a problem that the internet created. With sites like YouTube and TikTok, anyone now has the power to make music, a piece of writing, entertainment or another creative work and be noticed. But the internet has not really fulfilled the promise of enabling the masses to make a good living from what they love.

NFTs and the related concept of the blockchain hold the promise to, in part, give people ways to make their work more valuable by creating scarcity. There is promise in letting creators rely less on middlemen including social media companies, art dealers and streaming music companies.

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What We Got Wrong About Uber and Lyft

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What went wrong? Gregory D. Erhardt, who analyzes transportation modeling systems at the University of Kentucky, told me that the companies and some transportation experts misjudged how the ride services would be used.

The theory of on-demand rides was that they would be like carpooling. As people drove to work, they’d pick up an extra person or two along the way — and some money, too. But Uber and Lyft turned out to be more like taxis.

Uber and Lyft, as they expanded, focused on dense urban areas, where there were plenty of potential drivers and riders. But even there, drivers spend a large percentage of their working hours roaming around without fares and clogging the streets, Dr. Erhardt said. The combination of all of these factors was more miles driven in many large and midsize cities. (Dr. Erhardt and his colleagues are soon publishing additional research into the effects of ride-hail services in about 250 U.S. metropolitan areas.)

Dr. Erhardt and I talked over three lessons from this misjudgment. First, Uber and Lyft need to share their data so that cities can understand the services’ impact on the roads. Second, public officials need to steer transportation policy to encourage helpful behaviors and limit destructive ones. And third, new technology needs guardrails in place — and maybe those need to be established before its impact is obvious.

The first point is that Uber and Lyft, which tend to keep certain information such as where people travel and idling times secret, need to share information with cities and researchers. “Cities are pushing hard and have a strong case that we should be able to use this data for planning and research purposes,” Dr. Erhardt said.

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